Hall of Fame Game 2013: Complete Preview for Annual Preseason Classic
The NFL's preseason may be never-ending both in terms of length and as a source of controversy, but it's hard to argue that any league kicks off its opening festivities any better.
Saturday evening marked the induction ceremony for the contributors past and present voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. The evening was filled with the perfect blend of nostalgia and humor. It was the world's introduction to "Larry 40 Hands" and finally the evening where Curley Culp and Dave Robinson got their busts rightfully enshrined.
No other sports league quite does their induction ceremony in a similar manner. And no other league concludes the weekend of festivities the way the NFL will Sunday, with the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
The Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins will play in the annual game, which is held in Canton's Fawcett Stadium. Both squads come having a long, frustrating streak of missed playoff chances they hope to end in 2013. Dallas has wound up on the outside looking in for each of the past three seasons, and it's been a half-decade since we last saw Miami play January football.
Their journey to end those streaks of futility begins Sunday. Well, kind of. If you've been told once, you've been told a million times—preseason results are completely meaningless. The four- or five-game slate these teams play is mostly about paring down the roster to 53 men, avoiding injuries and developing some semblance of chemistry before the regular season begins.
Any insinuations that preseason results somehow translate to regular-season excellence/futility is misguided. That said, we're finally here, folks. From now until the end of the 2013 calendar year, there will be football to be watched on Sunday.
And if there's anything that you take away from the Hall of Fame Game, it's to get excited about what comes next. With that in mind, let's take a completely look at everything you need to know about Sunday evening's contest.
When: Sunday, August 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Fawcett Stadium, Canton, Ohio
If you're looking for reason No. 1 to not take the final score of this contest too seriously, look no further than the status of quarterback Tony Romo. The Cowboys signal-caller will be held out from even taking a snap Sunday, as head coach Jason Garrett wants to make sure he's 100 percent recovered from offseason back surgery before putting him into the lineup, according to ESPN's Calvin Watson.
Had this been a regular-season game, there's somewhere between a 100 percent and a 100 percent chance Romo would have played. No, that's not a typo.
That means a ton of eyes should be on Kyle Orton, the Dallas backup who will run the first-team offense against Miami.
Orton is in the second year of a three-year pact to serve as Romo's backup—a clipboard-holding role he performed almost exclusively last season. The nine-year vet appeared just once last season in a game against the Chicago Bears, completing nine of his 10 attempts for 89 yards and a score.
Orton stands little chance of impressing enough to change that barring injury this season, but he holds responsibility in getting the new Cowboys acclimated to game settings.
First-round pick Travis Frederick will slot in under center for his first career game, one in which he hopes to start the process of proving doubters of his selection wrong. Garrett told the Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin that Frederick will play in each of Dallas' five preseason games, where he could get a couple looks at guard.
It'll also be interesting to see how much offensive coordinator Bill Callahan shows off his play-calling chops in this contest. Coordinators rarely go with anything except vanilla sets in the first preseason game, and it's likely Callahan will adhere to that expectation.
But it'll be at least fun to see whether he throws in a deep pass on the opening possession or even some trickery to send a message to those skeptical about him overtaking the play-calling duties from Garrett.
Also notable will be the debut of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The legendary creator of the Tampa-2 system, a variation of the Cover-2 and 4-3 defensive set, Kiffin resigned from his son Lane's staff at USC after spending three seasons following him around the collegiate game.
While Kiffin is known as a strong coordinator and one of the better coaches to never get a head coaching opportunity, the Trojans struggled mightily to pick up his schemes last season—putting Lane's job in jeopardy in some pundits' eyes.
Kiffin's addition means the move of DeMarcus Ware to defensive end, along with a bevy of other changes in pre-snap reads and language. More than anything, Dallas' defense will be something to watch as players try to acclimate to their new coaching situation.
Don't be surprised if you see a few missed coverages here and there as the players new and old get used to the system.
Of the two teams in this contest, it's hard to argue against the Dolphins carrying the greater intrigue. There were some minor fixes in Dallas, and the blue star on the helmet always brings historical connotations, but this Miami team has made no bones about trying to bring in first-class talent.
Whether they will all mesh into a cohesive football team is another question. Throwing a Brinks truck full of money at Mike Wallace to serve as a deep threat for Ryan Tannehill and hoping that Dion Jordan is an Aldon Smith-in-waiting is one thing. Watching these players in camp and bringing forth execution is another entirely.
Tannehill's development under center will be particularly key to Miami's playoff push. The former Texas A&M signal-caller looked far more composed last season than most expected, finishing with 3,294 yards and 12 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
In a league where Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III are making heads turn with their historic excellence, Tannehill's relative mediocrity might bring an overwhelming sense of "meh" from the NFL literati.
But Tannehill was always seen as a bit of a raw prospect, a converted wideout who was still learning how to command a team and work under center. It didn't help that the Dolphins surrounded him with perhaps the worst receiving corps in the league—a move they made strides in improving this offseason.
Wallace is an imperfect talent, and we have years of data showing that players who leave the Steelers are rarely the same afterward. But his physical skills and ability to stretch the defense are prodigious.
Wallace had a down season in Pittsburgh last year amid contract controversy and the switch to Todd Haley's more conservative, checkdown-heavy system but should return to a Pro Bowl-caliber target with the aggressive Tannehill under center.
(Note: It's unclear whether Wallace will play as of publication. He injured his groin in camp and has been sitting out in practice, per James Walker of ESPN. Again, preseason is a bummer.)
Elsewhere on offense, the distribution of carries between Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee won't come without intrigue. Miller is expected to emerge as the top option, but Gillislee is an impressive back who felt like a steal when Miami landed him on draft day.
Defensively, the questions remain, but they're lesser. Jordan was drafted to be a pass-rushing menace and make Tom Brady's life a living hell, yet there are enough contingency plans in place that Miami should rank in the top-half defense regardless.
The addition of Brent Grimes was one of the more underrated of the season at cornerback, and the Dolphins should have stability at the position for the first time in a long time.
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