The Cowboys officially open the start of preseason tonight when they take on the Miami Dolphins in the annual Hall of Fame Game played in Canton, Ohio.
Here’s what to watch for this evening:
1. Unveiling of the 4-3 Defense– Monte Kiffin’s newly installed 4-3 system will be on display this evening against QB Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense. Kiffin’s last stop at the University of Southern California has largely been considered a failure. However the 76-year-old possesses of a long history of NFL success. The front seven for the ‘Boys has never really been in question. For the first time in his career, All-Pro DeMarcus Ware will play with his hand on the ground at defensive end. It will be interesting to see him wreak havoc on Tannehill, if he plays. You also can’t forget about Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, who NFL experts believe will excel in Kiffin’s new system.
2. Travis Frederick– Frederick will most likely have a lot busier night than most of the starters. He is expected to play at both center and guard tonight, as the Cowboys want to test the rookie as much as possible leading up to the regular season. Through training camp so far, Frederick has been solid and looks to carry his poise into the match up with the Dolphins.
3. Joseph Randle– Randle will make his NFL Debut tonight. The Cowboys aren’t expecting to play all their starters tonight, so expect Randle to receive plenty of work. Randle, who was drafted out of Oklahoma State in the fifth round will be the change of pace back for DeMarco Murray this season, and it could definitely help his confidence with a solid performance against Miami.
4. Safety Battle– The Cowboys will start Barry Church and Will Allen on Sunday, but the battle to watch will be after they exit the field. Matt Johnson has been receiving second-team snaps in practice, and the Cowboys project him to be a starter in the future. However, his training camp performance has been inconsistent. He’ll have the chance to show he’s more than capable of being that ball-hawking safety the Cowboys expect him to be tonight. Watch out for J.J. Wilcox in this game. He’s the personal protector on the punt team, and is the only rookie on the special teams unit. He’s made several plays on the ball in practice at the actual safety position, and continues to be strong against the run. I expect to hear his name often tonight. One of these two younger safeties will be given the opportunities to show they can supplant veteran Will Allen.
5. Offensive Line Issues- Well, I’ve already mentioned Frederick above, and he’s not the problem here. Neither is former first-round pick Tyron Smith, who anchors this unit. The concerns for the Cowboys come primarily from the guard position. Projected starter Nate Livings is expected to miss two to four weeks due to injury, and his backup Kevin Kowalski will also be out nearly a month due to a minor knee injury. The list doesn’t stop there for the ‘Boys as Jeremy Parnell, Demetress Bell, Ryan Cook, and Mackenzy Bernadeau are all nursing injuries. It’ll be interesting to see if the line can protect QB Kyle Orton tonight.
6. Who actually won’t play- QB Tony Romo (supposedly), LB Alex Albright, OG Nate Livings, and WR Terrance Williams all won’t play tonight in the Cowboys preseason opener. As for anyone else not playing, Jason Garrett has stayed quiet. Sources have said Romo won’t play with other specific veteran players, but Garrett and the coaching staff have not revealed the other names of who possibly might sit. I’m sure we will all find out immediately tonight when the team takes the field.