Now that Warren Sapp and a host of other legends have their spots in the Hall of Fame, the NFL's preseason will commence with a showdown between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.
The annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game from Canton, Ohio, is often viewed as an unnecessary fifth preseason game in a league that has flirted in the past with reducing the preseason.
Which team walks away from Canton victorious?
With that in mind, don't expect to see superstars like Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo or Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace for very long, if at all (according to ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins, Romo won't suit up).
Still, football is back, and the matchup will provide us with brief glimpses into the future of two franchises that failed to reach the postseason in 2012.
Dallas is attempting to bounce back in a competitive NFC East with Romo's arm reinforced with a $100 million deal. The Dolphins were the big winners of free agency, reeling in the aforementioned Wallace and a host of others, and hope to take advantage of a weakened AFC East now that the New England Patriots are in a tailspin.
Let's examine three players you need to keep an eye on in the matchup on Sunday, as each could have major implications for the ultimate success or failure of his team's 2013 campaign.
The Dolphins made Jordan the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft, and you better believe they expect him to have a major impact in his rookie campaign.
Things got off to a rocky start between the Dolphins and Jordan, as he was one of the last rookie contract dominoes to fall, causing some to think he could miss the beginning of training camp.
That ended up not being the case, and Jordan has been nothing short of spectacular in practices, as noted by members of the media in attendance:
Star of #Dolphins practice: DE Dion Jordan. He made some nice plays vs MIA's 1st-team o-line, had 2 sacks. Best day of camp for the rook.— James Walker (@JamesWalkerESPN) August 1, 2013
Main Fins observation from last couple practices (nothing earth-shattering)...Dion Jordan looks sensational rushing the passer. Exciting.— Jesse Agler (@finsjesse) August 1, 2013
The Hall of Fame Game marks the first time we'll have a chance to see Jordan in a real NFL game situation. Perhaps the most intriguing question is where the Dolphins will use him. Jordan is versatile enough to wreak havoc from defensive end and outside linebacker, but he can also drop into coverage thanks to his speed.
Watch where Jordan lines up and how he is utilized. His ability to put Kyle Orton on his back a few times will bode well for his rookie-year fortunes.
The Cowboys turned some heads at the bottom of the first round this year with the selection of Frederick. Sure, he comes from a stellar offensive lineman factory at Wisconsin, but not many had Frederick pegged as a first-round candidate.
However, the Cowboys now look smart for making the move.
Dallas is down a few offensive linemen thanks to injuries. Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Kevin Kowalski, Ryan Cook and Ray Dominguez are all hurting. Livings' situation may be the most alarming, as his knee issue sounds more serious than first thought:
Hearing that the Nate Livings knee injury is more serious than day-to-day. Could even be a season-long issue.— Jeff Sullivan (@SullyBaldHead) August 2, 2013
Frederick has seen some time at both guard and center during camp, but as of now he is penciled in as the starting center:
Garrett said Travis Frederick will start camp at C but could see some time at G— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) July 20, 2013
Expect Frederick to play the entire game against Miami thanks to a wealth of injuries.
Frederick won't make or break the Cowboys in 2013, but his ability to transition quickly and help stabilize the line would be an improvement over last year's woeful unit.
We hate to give one team more attention than another in a game preview, but the Cowboys are a bit of a known commodity at this point—which is a good thing if the roster can stay healthy.
The Dolphins are the exact opposite—who knows what you're going to get with a second-year quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and a mishmash of free-agent talent?
Now that Reggie Bush is gone, Tannehill's No. 1 option at running back is Lamar Miller, a second-year player who only saw 51 carries last season.
Miller is poised to step into the every-down back role unless Daniel Thomas can flash some sort of talent he hasn't in the past. Rookie Mike Gillislee will be in the conversation, but all signs point toward Miller being your starter:
Here's how you KNOW Lamar Miller is the featured back. He gets to chill during special teams drills. Nobody is fooled t.co/zaEJdsFvBN— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) July 31, 2013
Against the Cowboys, Miller may not see a ton of action, but watching how he handles pass protection as well as the running itself is imperative. Protection has been Miller's issue in the past, but head coach Joe Philbin says Miller has improved in that area.
It's important to watch all the backs on Miami's roster, but Miller is billed as the guy. Keep a close eye on him against Dallas—he has plenty of other backs on the roster just waiting for him to falter.
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