Players To Watch In NFL Training Camp: AFC South
The Father chooses one player from each team to keep an eye this summer
Training camps will be opening up later this month, and roster battles will begin, new players will find a role, injured players will seek a return to form, old players will try to show they still have it, and young players will try to show they have improved. Every team has their own storylines and players to watch, and I am going to take a little time over the next couple weeks to highlight some of these players. I will pick one player from each team to highlight to keep an eye on in training camp. If they can fulfill their destiny, they can make a big difference in what happens with their team this year.
We now move on to the AFC South.
Indianapolis Colts: Michael Pittman Jr.
While Carson Wentz would also be a good choice here, I am going with something a little less certain but certainly relevant. Michael Pittman Jr. is likely going to be the WR 1 for the Colts this year. TY Hilton has been on a steady decline in recent years and is likely now more of a WR 2. The Colts desperately need a true WR 1 for Wentz to target, and this is where Pittman comes in. He showed some flashes early last season before getting hurt. While Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal will also filter in to the mix for this role (along with Hilton obviously) Pittman probably has the most upside. Receivers often make leaps in year 2, and the Colts have to be hoping a regular offseason will turn him into that top end threat. If he can put together a 1000 yard season with 5-10 TDs, it would help to open up the rest of the options on this team. It will start with his connection to Wentz in camp.
Tennessee Titans: Janoris Jenkins
Jenkins joins the Titans after a good run as the number 2 cornerback on the Saints for several years. Jenkins found some solid success there, and established himself as being a capable if not spectacular option for teams. His role with the Titans will be imperative this season. While the offense added Julio Jones to a star combo of AJ Brown and Derrick Henry, the defense got limited help in free agency. While the Titans drafted Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden to help on the outside and in the slot respectively, they are both rookies. Their ability in year one will likely be limited. If this team wants to achieve it’s goals, Jenkins needs to be a top line NFL cornerback and manage top receivers one on one at times. This team has very little in the way of a pass rush, with new addition Bud Dupree coming off an Achilles tear, and they need to be able to scheme a rush. This means leaving Jenkins in single coverage. Watch early in camp how he fares against Brown and Jones. If he can handle them, he can handle anybody.
Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Shaquill Griffin
While a lot of attention will be focused on Trevor Lawrence, James Robinson, and DJ Chark on offense, the Jags defense will be the key to them having a decent year. This group was pretty abysmal throughout last year, and Shaquill Griffin is the biggest piece of the revamp that happened in the offseason. Griffin had a very down year in 2020 (although his paycheck doesn’t reflect that) for a Seattle team that was nearly as bad defensively as Jacksonville. The year before that, however, he was a borderline All-Pro. Which Shaquill Griffin did the Jaguars get? Training camp will be our first chance to find out. His matchups with Chark should be a good start to an evaluation.
Houston Texans: Shaq Lawson
Fooled you with that pic, huh. The OTHER guy in this picture is Shaq Lawson, the newest defensive end for the Texans. Watson’s status, as we all know, is in limbo, and it is almost certain he won’t be seen in camp, or maybe even a Texans uniform, this season. Meanwhile, the Texans have embarked on a full blown rebuild that doesn’t leave us much to work with. Honestly, if you are Texans fan, maybe take this year’s camp off. Lawson arrives from Miami, where, for the most part, he did not live up to the contract he signed the previous offseason. Lawson is still on that contract, however, and he is likely going to be very needed by a team that will struggle to score points. If he can get back to his double digit sack total from Buffalo, he could push his unit a lot closer to respectability than they are on paper. A pass rush can paper over a number of defensive sins, and showing up in shape and focused would really help the Texans avoid 0-17.