What to Watch in Hall of Fame Game

Tonight's exhibition is little more than a chance for NBC to pat itself on the back and engage in some really awkwardly uncomfortable liplock with the guys who just got enshrined last night.

They the network's announcers will ignore much of the game to tell all of the new guys that they were the greatest ever, and ask them to recount the same stories they have told for the last 48 hours.

With that said, those fans who watch really closely will notice that between the announcers' Hallmark-esque rhetoric in the booth, there will be some guys running around on the field in helmets and pads. Guaranteed starters like quarterback Tony Romo and linebacker DeMarcus Ware and tight end Jason Witten will barely break a sweat before they're done for the day. But for some of the non-stars, tonight is the night to start showing they belong.

No major decisions will be made based on the performance against the Bengals tonight, but the coaches will start to get a perspective on some important topics:

1. Stay healthy
Nothing ruins a meaningless exhibition game more than seeing a guy go out for the year in a "game" exists only so the NFL can pad its already-deep pockets. Players will be hitting more than they do in training camp, but there shouldn't be any real de-cleaters.

2. Left tackle
Not that the Bengals will be rolling out their first-teamers any more than Dallas will, but it will be interesting to see how Doug Free and Alex Barron look. Free filled in ably last year for Flozell Adams until he encountered Minnesota's Jared Allen, but Allen has treated a lot of would-be blockers that way. Barron is the best athlete on the offensive line, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's the best lineman. Will his quickness and long arms allow him to close the gap with Free? That remains to be seen.

3. Free safety
By all appearances in San Antonio, it looks like Alan Ball has the upper hand on the starting job over Mike Hamlin, but that is another position in which the regular-season starter is far from being determined. In addition, rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is in the mix somewhere, but he just returned recently to the practice field after offseason shoulder surgery, so don't expect him to play too much.

4. Wide receivers
First-round pick Dez Bryant won't play because of his high ankle sprain, and veteran Miles Austin will be off the field about as quickly as the Romos and Wittens and Wares will be. Roy Williams should start but also likely won't play long, so look for Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd and Kevin Ogletree to go pretty hard in an effort to convince the coaches they deserve to remain with the team.

5. Fourth cornerback
Veteran Cletis Gordon appears to have the upper hand at the moment, but is facing a stiff challenge from sixth-round pick Jamar Wall and undrafted free agent Bryan McCann. With Ball and Owusu-Ansah having cornerback experience, the team likely will carry just four cornerbacks, because one of the other two could slide over, if need be. Each of the three candidates has an edge in a key category — Gordon in experience, McCann in speed and Wall in powerful hitting — but this is one race that is to close to see any real separation this early in camp.

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