While NFL preseason games don't count for anything, it doesn't change the fact that football fans everywhere are excited about Sunday's Hall of Fame Game between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. Even if the game itself doesn't end up being great, its arrival means that football season is finally here.
With that said, the game will feature two teams that have a lot to prove this season as the Dolphins will try to validate their offseason spending spree, while the Cowboys are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. This game may not tell us a lot about those aspirations, but it marks the first step toward them.
Assuming the Dolphins and Cowboys follow normal preseason conventions, the starters will probably only play one series. That means that all of the reserves and rookie players will have a golden opportunity to prove themselves on a pretty big stage.
Here is all the information you need to know while watching Sunday's preseason opener between the Dolphins and Cowboys.
Where: Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio
When: Sunday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Miami Dolphins (-3) (via Bovada)
Dolphins Injuries (via ESPN.com)
Out: WR Armon Binns (ACL)
Questionable: WR Mike Wallace (groin), WR Brian Hartline (calf), DT Randy Starks (leg), DT Jared Odrick (leg)
Cowboys Injuries (via ESPN.com)
Questionable: OL Nate Livings (knee), WR Danny Coale (knee), WR Dez Bryant (hip)
Probable: CB Morris Claiborne (migraine), S Barry Church (root canal)
Dolphins Player to Watch: Dion Jordan
Despite the fact that the Dolphins needed an offensive tackle, and there was a very good one on the board in the form of Lane Johnson when they chose No. 3 overall in the 2013 NFL draft, Miami decided to select Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. The tall, lanky pass-rusher had stretches of dominance with the Ducks, but he is aiming to become a more consistent player at the next level.
Jordan will have a chance to prove that he can be an every-down player on Sunday as he figures to get plenty of playing time. Jordan only played roughly half of the defensive snaps for Oregon this past season, so he needs to shed the label of a situational pass-rusher. According to Jesse Agler of TheFinsiders.com, Jordan has looked excellent in training camp recently.
Performing in practice and performing in a game are entirely different animals, though. Jordan figures to be used in several different packages on Sunday as the coaching staff will try to get a good feel for everything he brings to the table. If he plays well, then he'll set himself up for an increased role moving forward.
Cowboys Players to Watch: Joseph Randle
DeMarco Murray is the Cowboys' unquestioned starting running back when he is healthy, but the caveat is that health has eluded Murray throughout his young career. Because of that, the backup running back job may be one of the most important ones on the Dallas roster. Lance Dunbar may be in the driver's seat at the moment, but rookie fifth-round selection Joseph Randle could give him a run for his money.
Randle had a fantastic career at Oklahoma State, but his draft stock wasn't as high as many expected. That likely had a lot to do with the fact that teams weren't necessarily looking for running backs in the early part of the draft. If Randle lives up to his potential, though, then the Cowboys have a major steal on their hands. Randle struggled a bit early in camp, but according to Carlos A. Mendez of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, Randle believes that he is hitting his stride.
With the starters set to play a minor role in the Hall of Fame Game, Randle should be in line for plenty of playing time and touches. It appears as though he and Dunbar are essentially in an open competition to back up Murray, so whichever running back plays better on Sunday and throughout the preseason figures to earn that job.
Predicting who will win a preseason game is often a futile effort since it's impossible to know how the head coaches will decide to use their players, but the Dolphins appear to have a slight edge in this one. Call it a gut feeling, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Joe Philbin keep his starters in for an extra series since his starting offense consists of some younger players who could use some additional work.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is coming off a solid rookie campaign, while running back Lamar Miller is in line to open the season as a starter as well. In an effort to get them acclimated with each other, perhaps Philbin will go off the beaten path to some degree. Even if he doesn't, Miami seems to have more depth than Dallas in terms of younger players, so the Fins should be able to thrive late in the game.
Winning or losing doesn't ultimately matter as both teams are just trying to figure out who is worthy of a roster spot at this point, but look for a 21-17 victory in favor of the Dolphins on Sunday.
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