CANTON, Ohio — The Miami Dolphins could be the only legitimate challenger to New England’s AFC East dominance.
The Dallas Cowboys hope they will be a true threat in the NFC East, where both the defending division champion Redskins and the Giants are more highly regarded.
For two teams with so many question marks heading toward the 2013 season, an extra exhibition game can’t be a terrible thing — provided no key players get hurt in tonight’s Hall of Fame game.
Miami already has some injury concerns, with starting receivers Mike Wallace (groin) and Brian Hartline (left calf) hobbled in practice this week.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo had offseason surgery for a cyst on his back, and coach Jason Garrett has been close-mouthed on Romo’s availability for the lone game this weekend. Only Dallas and Miami will play five exhibitions this summer.
Five things to look for in Dolphins vs. Cowboys
WHERE ART THOU, ROMO? — After signing a huge contract (six years, $108 million with $55 million guaranteed), Romo is expected to step up his game and become one of the top few QBs in the league since he is being paid like one. Garrett won’t be putting him in any uncomfortable positions during the preseason, so it’s unlikely he’ll play against Miami.
But even with a banged-up offensive line, the Cowboys must find out soon just how healthy their latest franchise quarterback is and how he reacts to taking a hit. And Romo is eager to be behind center as often as possible to work with a strong group of receivers led by Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin.
“I think more than anything just getting back into it, getting the body to start, stop, go, quit, that football entails,” Romo said of the importance of practice and game action.
DION JORDAN’S ROLE — Miami traded up to the third spot in April’s draft to grab Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan with the idea he could be the Dolphins’ next Jason Taylor. Rookies, once they are signed, usually aren’t held back in the preseason, and Jordan could wind up on special teams, too.
“That’s a huge part of our team,” coach Joe Philbin said. “We have the potential to be very, very good on special teams this year. Dion’s had an outstanding attitude toward special teams. To say he’s too valuable, absolutely not.”
CALLING THE PLAYS IN BIG D — That’s Bill Callahan’s responsibility this year after Garrett had that chore taken away; he says it was a team decision, but speculation is that owner Jerry Jones opted for the move. The reasoning was that Garrett could be more focused on overall game scenarios if he wasn’t telling Romo what play to run each snap.
An offensive line coach by trade — but a former head coach of the Raiders when they lost to Tampa Bay in the 2002 Super Bowl, and at Nebraska — Callahan is no novice. He held the offensive coordinator’s title last year, his first with Dallas, and now truly fits the role.
STEPPING IN FOR BUSH — Reggie Bush now is in Detroit, leaving Miami as a free agent. He’s never been the superstar projected when he came out of Southern Cal, but he’s been a playmaker and gained 986 yards rushing and 292 receiving and scored eight times for the Dolphins in 2012.
His replacement could be second-year speedster Lamar Miller. Or it could be third-year man Daniel Thomas if he can stay healthy. Or rookie Mike Gillislee, a fifth-round pick.
NEW FACES — Both teams were very active in the offseason, and this game will provide an early look at some of those moves.
Miami brought in Wallace, CB Brent Grimes, LBs Dannell Ellerbe and LB Philip Wheeler, TE Dustin Keller, WR Brandon Gibson and OT Tyson Clabo. Dallas’ key newcomer is defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who made his biggest splash with the Tampa Bay defense that won the 2002 championship and is switching the Cowboys to a 4-3 alignment.