The wait is almost over as the Miami Dolphins will finally take the field to play an NFL game, albeit an exhibition one. Nonetheless, the Dolphins will kickoff the 2013 preseason against the Dallas Cowboys in the annual Hall of Fame Game on Sunday.
Although this matchup as well as the four preseason games that follow are meaningless in terms of the team's record, they will serve as a stage for the coaching staff to watch position battles play out. It will be the opportunity for players fighting for a roster spot to make a name for themselves in real competition, something that is difficult to evaluate in camp.
Here are five aspects of the team or individual players to monitor as the game against the Cowboys progresses:
1) Battle for the 4th and 5th WR spots
With Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline both expected to sit out as they recover from minor injuries, players that are currently on the roster bubble will have the chance to step up. The injuries to Armon Binns and Rishard Matthews has created an intense battle for the 4th, 5th and even 6th WR jobs. Marvin McNutt has had an impressive camp thus far but it will be interesting to see if his success can translate to games. Newcomer Keenan Davis opened some eyes on Friday with his performance as he competes with Julius Pruitt and Chad Bumphis for a spot on the team.
2) Jonathan Martin
Reports out of camp have suggested that Jonathan Martin has really struggled against the stout Dolphins defensive line. As he matches up against another team, we will be able to determine if Martin's performance in camp has been poor or if Miami's defensive line is just that good. The progress of the offensive line will definitely be something to follow over the course of the preseason as it will be critical that they find success in order to allow Ryan Tannehill to take the next step.
3) Caleb Sturgis vs. Dan Carpenter
It's risky to base judgement of a kicker solely on what is accomplished in practice. Throughout the preseason, Sturgis and Carpenter will have the chance to kick when the pressure is on and with the opposing defense rushing, trying to block the attempt. The outcome of this position battle will be determined by their success in the five exhibition games, not training camp.
4) Rookie Cornerbacks
Third round pick Will Davis has been in a ball hawk in camp and continues to make plays while second round pick Jamar Taylor spent time on the sidelines recovering from offseason surgery. Both should see their fair share of playing time in this game as they will be counted on during the season to backup likely starters, Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson at the position.
5) Dion Jordan
Jordan has had his way with second year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin in camp but can the third overall find success against more talented and more experienced opponents? He will continued to be eased into action as he recovers from a shoulder injury and will likely be limited to third downs. However, the contributions he makes when on the field will be something to monitor closely.
There is no doubt that all eyes will be on key second year starters Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller when they do play in the preseason. Tannehill is expected to start Sunday's game but I wouldn't count on him playing more than three series. His brief apperance will be for the benefit of wide receivers on the roster bubble as they are given the opportunity to catch passes from a starting quarterback.