The NFL, self-serious as it is aside from Football Follies, can’t avoid irony drenching its first event of the season, Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend that ends with Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. Consider:
A weekend that celebrates the NFL’s greatest finishes with a game played mostly by those just hoping to be one of the NFL’s latest. A celebration of known quantities of the highest quality ends with teams trying to put some solid shape on the amorphous unknown they call a team.
Said Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick: “There’s so many other things going on that — it’s about the game, but in terms of the way it’s put on, the way it’s produced, it’s about the old players coming back, being recognized and about us continuing the tradition and legacy they’ve laid down. But for us, it’s still about winning a football game.”
Fellow Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, standing on the team’s Davie practice field after Friday’s session, said: “I was going to tell some of the young guys, this is literally a job interview. What you do out here, it’s football, but these are your own teammates. There are certain levels of professional courtesy we apply to one another while playing. That doesn’t really apply on Sunday.”
Watch special teams. That’s not just where the kicker competition between fifth-round pick Caleb Sturgis and sixth-year man Dan Carpenter will be decided, but where rookies and free agents of any position often win roster spots. It’s also, judging by parts of special-teams practice Friday, where you might see 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan. And not as one of the outside guys. Jordan lined up next to the kicker, where hardcore special-teams players earn the rent.
But it’s not just the bottom 40 percent of the Dolphins roster that has more question marks than The Riddler’s wardrobe.
Is the renovated, shuffled offensive line as porous as it has looked against the Dolphins defensive line in practice? Or is the defensive line just that good and the offensive line on their way to being good enough against most of the NFL? How much will Jordan show at his every-down position?
Behind that defensive line, what of the new sets of linebackers and cornerbacks? However small the playing time for the Dolphins starters, everybody will leave with more base-line knowledge than they have now.
“You asking me or from a coaches standpoint?” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said with a laugh when asked how much work he would like to get in Sunday. “It’s going to be good to get out there. Obviously, we don’t play that much.”
Wide receiver Mike Wallace, who spent the week working on the sidelines with a groin injury, is not likely to play. So he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill won’t play pitch-and-catch in a game situation until at least next Friday at Jacksonville. Odrick and fellow defensive linemen Randy Starks also are unlikely to play.
As for what Miami coach Joe Philbin wants to see Sunday, “Play speed is really the thing that we’ve been talking to our guys about.
“This game is not really going to be about X’s and O’s, although we have a good, sound plan in, I’m sure our opponent has a good, sound plan as well. But it’s more going to be about our guys playing football the right way. The things that we’ve been practicing every single day have to show up on tape. We tell the team all the time, if we devote ‘X’ amount of time to ball security, or to takeaways, or to block protection, we want to see that stuff on the film, in the games.”