MIAMI -- The best thing about tonight's preseason finale for Dallas Cowboys fans is that it's the last exhibition game before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the New York Jets.
Quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and many other starters and front-line players will sit out tonight's game at Miami to avoid injury.
The game is far from meaningless. Jobs, dreams and careers are on the line for a number of players who are trying to fill out positions at the bottom of the Cowboys roster.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who admitted sweating out the final cuts for all 14 years of his playing career, said players can change minds and earn roster spots with a strong final performance.
"Absolutely. I think there are a number of guys on our football team who are in competition," Garrett said. "These last spots on the roster are the ones that are really critical to the overall makeup of your football team, what their roles are going to be on special teams or as a backup player. This is a game where they're going to get their biggest opportunity in the whole preseason. We've got to evaluate them and understand the circumstance and the situation they're in, who they may be playing against and who they may be playing with. Having said that, it's an important night for a lot of guys."
Here are five storylines to watch:
1Stephen McGee time
If third-string quarterback Stephen McGee plays during the regular season, chances are things haven't gone well for the Cowboys. So tonight is his time to shine. He will play the majority of the game before probably giving way to Tom Brandstater. With this being Jon Kitna's last year, it's important for McGee to continue to progress and show the Cowboys he can be the primary backup next season. He has been good in late-game and scramble situations. McGee needs to prove he can manage the team for a full game.
2Mike Jenkins' health
Cornerback Mike Jenkins missed the entire preseason with a pinched nerve in his neck. He was cleared for practice this week in what proved to be a puzzling injury as he was initially expected to be out just a couple of days. The Cowboys want to get him some game action before the season opener. It's important for Jenkins to test the injury in a real game so he can be confident heading into the season. After his disappointing play last year, the Cowboys need no hesitancy out of him.
3Montrae Holland conditioning
Guard Montrae Holland will make his preseason debut against the Dolphins. He was expected to replace Leonard Davis in the starting lineup. But he came to camp out of shape and has been sidelined since the first week with back and hamstring injuries. He has since been passed over for the starting job by rookie Bill Nagy. The Cowboys now want him to be a trusty veteran backup. He must show he is ready to play and can be counted on. If not, he could be another business decision on cutdown day.
The Cowboys are taking four kickers to tonight's game after signing Dave Rayner on Tuesday to compete with inconsistent incumbent David Buehler, rookie Dan Bailey and Shayne Graham, who was signed last week. It's unlikely they will get work for all four kickers in the game. The Cowboys have had their eye on Rayner for a while and it appears he is the favorite. He needs a clean game on field goals and kickoffs against the Dolphins. Buehler's survival likely depends on the Cowboys keeping two kickers and using him on kickoffs.
Receiver Raymond Radway, cornerback Mario Butler, linebacker Alex Albright and running back Phillip Tanner signed with the Cowboys as undrafted free agents a month ago. With no minicamps and no OTAs (organized team activities), they were the longest of long shots to make the roster, as were all the undrafted free agents. But these four have turned heads from the very start and now are one final good game away from the Cowboys roster. Radway's bid could come at the expense of draft pick Dwayne Harris. Butler could be knocking off draft pick Josh Thomas. Albright might end the Cowboys career of Brandon Williams and Tanner could send Lonyae Miller packing.