The annual Hall of Fame Game marks the beginning of the NFL season, and with the Miami Dolphins taking on the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio on Sunday, there is plenty of reason for football fans to get excited.
While many view the Hall of Fame Game as a novelty of sorts, the two teams involved figure to take it very seriously. This will be the first chance for Dolphins and Cowboys coaches to truly see what their respective teams can do on the field in a game situation. Most starters won't play more than a single series, but there are other storylines to keep track of.
Here are three players in particular that are worth watching on Sunday as they make a case for playing time once the regular season commences.
When the Dolphins traded up to No. 3 in the 2013 NFL draft, most figured that it was done in order to select Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson. The Fins decided to go in a different direction, though, as they addressed the defensive side of the ball.
Miami went with Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, who many observers pointed to as the best and most-polished pass rusher in the draft. Jordan will have a chance to prove them right on Sunday.
It's entirely possible that Jordan will begin the regular season as a starter, but he won't be treated like a regular starter in the Hall of Fame Game. Expect Jordan to play plenty of snaps, and to be afforded several opportunities to make some plays.
The Dolphins would like him to become a complement to Cameron Wake as soon as possible, and he is already making waves in training camp. According to James Walker of ESPN, Jordan has started to separate himself from the field in practice.
Perhaps the biggest concern when it comes to Jordan is his workload. Much was made about the fact that he only played roughly half of the snaps for Oregon's defense, so it remains to be seen if he can be an every-down guy. The preseason will afford Miami an opportunity to figure out the answer to that question. That means Jordan should be used in all kinds of different situations.
The hype surrounding him certainly won't rival that of Jordan, but Cowboys running back Joseph Randle is another rookie to keep a very close eye on during Sunday's game.
Dallas' draft was roundly criticized, but nabbing the Oklahoma State product in the fifth round was considered a major coup for Jerry Jones and company. Randle's training camp has been hit-and-miss thus far, as he is still trying to get acclimated, but head coach Jason Garrett believes he is making progress, according to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News.
It's unlikely that Randle will get much playing time early in the regular season since DeMarco Murray is entrenched as the starter, but it's no secret that Murray has struggled to stay healthy throughout his NFL career. With that in mind, the backup running back job in Big D could be of great importance. Randle is currently locked in a battle with Lance Dunbar, who seemingly has the advantage at this point. That could easily change on Sunday, though.
Since the Cowboys don't want to risk getting Murray injured in a preseason game, there is no chance that he plays more than a series. That means Randle should receive a couple quarters of playing time and double-digit carries to boot. Randle was extremely productive on a pass-first team at Oklahoma State, and he is considered an in-game performer. If Randle impresses on Sunday, he will be in line for more playing time moving forward.
Starters generally play very little in the first preseason game of the year, but Dolphins running back Lamar Miller's situation is a bit different.
Everyone and their mother believes that Miller will be Miami's starter this season with Reggie Bush now in Detroit, but the Dolphins have been unwilling to make that announcement. Since Miller is only a second-year player, and he was used sparingly last season, he might be utilized a bit more heavily in the Hall of Fame Game than anticipated.
That isn't to say that the Dolphins will ride him throughout the game, but look for him to play at least a couple series. Miller only has 51 carries and 250 yards to his credit at the NFL level, so he needs to get some work in. Despite Miller's lack of experience, and his status as a fourth-round pick last season, he has some lofty expectations for himself in 2013, according to NFL Network.
Those numbers would put him in the upper echelon of NFL running backs, and while it isn't outside the realm of possibility, Miller has a long way to go in order to get to that point. As long as Miller doesn't trip over himself and have an awful preseason, he is essentially a lock to start for Miami in Week 1.
He does have to instill confidence into the coaching staff, though, so that they know they can trust him in important situations. Miller will try to take the first step toward that on Sunday.
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