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Cowboys, Dolphins ready for first test

The SportsXchange

CANTON, Ohio -- In the NFL's initial 2013 preseason contest -- the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Fawcett Stadium -- the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys will be looking for something more important than a win after the kickoff Sunday at 8 p.m. (ET).

Most established veterans will see minimal action -- perhaps one or two series -- and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is not scheduled to play at all as he works his way back into shape following offseason surgery.

So it will by backup quarterback Kyle Orton who will test the team's new play-calling system, featuring offensive assistant Bill Callahan calling the plays instead of head coach Jason Garrett.

On defense, the Cowboys also have a new play-caller in 73-year old coordinator Monte Kiffin, who has installed his version of the so-called Tampa Two defense which, among other things, changes Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware into a defensive end, the position he played in college.

The new defense also means changes in the secondary, which needed changes after giving up far too many big plays the last couple of years.

Dallas cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are both good in man coverage, but Kiffin's sheme is based on zone coverage that demands corners and safeties to create a very small window for completions. In training camp, it seemed that Kiffin allowed more of a mix of man and zone coverage than many expected, which could make it difficult for opposing offenses to read.

Enter the Miami Dolphins with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a few new weapons, most notably wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was one of the league's most potent deep threats the last couple of years in Pittsburgh with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

But in early training camp workouts, Tannehill and Wallace seemed to lack consistent chemistry, so it should be interesting to see if they can work well together in a game situation. Wallace sat out parts of recent workouts and his availability for Sunday's game is uncertain.

Wallace is only part of a budget-busting offseason by Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, who is apparently trying to buy a playoff spot.

The Dolphins also signed free agent tight end Dustin Keller, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo and linebackers Dannel Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. In the draft they traded up to snag Oregon pass rusher Dion Jordan with the No. 3 overall pick.

The Dolphins are anxious to see the 6-6, 260-pound Jordan, who has been bothered by a bad shoulder but says he is ready to go.

If he is ready to go, both teams will be interested in the outcome because the Cowboys are doing all they can to shore up an offensive line that gave up 36 sacks in 2012.

Guards Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau return as starters last season. Ron Leary was expected to step in after serving as a backup late last season, but has been injured. If no one steps up and Leary doesn't develop, it will force the Cowboys to have to move first-round pick Travis Frederick from center to guard and start the undersized Phil Costa at center.

The Cowboys didn't draft Frederick in the first round to play guard, but as of now Costa is one of the team's five best offensive linemen and it would be a route they would have to take if Bernadeau, Livings or Leary don't step up.

Improvement and continued development up front is key to the Cowboys' plan to emphasize the run game more than last year. Garrett said the Cowboys need to run it more and run it better than last year when they had the worst run game in team history in terms of yards and attempts. Running back DeMarco Murray came into camp ready and determined to stay healthy for a full season.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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