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Former Super Bowl star Ealy among hopefuls fighting for Cowboys roster spot

FRISCO, Texas -- Perhaps mercifully, the Dallas Cowboys close the preseason on Thursday night at the Houston Texans.

Here’s what you need to know: Many of the players on the field will not make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster on Saturday. The starters and even a good portion of the regular backups will not play.

The Cowboys waved the white flag on the preseason last week, when they opted to sit Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for Game 3 because of injuries to Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in what is normally the dress rehearsal for the regular season.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be anything worth watching against the Texans.

“We’ve seen it happen time and time again where a player really steps up and sticks out in that last game and makes the team. Somebody we didn’t think would make it,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

There are spots to be had as the Cowboys begin to ponder their first 53-man roster on Saturday, but be assured it will not be their final roster as they get ready for the Sept. 9 opener against the Carolina Panthers.

Here is a look at a number of roster possibilities:

Rico Gathers

He played better in training camp when the Cowboys returned from Oxnard, California. He caught five passes for 30 yards on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after seeing just a bit of action in the first two preseason games. With Gathers, it is not about the flash plays that catch the fans’ eyes. It’s about the every-down plays that catch the coaches’ eyes. He is three preseasons into a football career that was on hold since the eighth grade because he was such a good basketball player. If the Cowboys want to keep a fourth tight end, then Gathers will have to show he can do more than be just a red zone player. Can he block the right guy consistently? Can he make the right adjustments when defenses blitz?

Bo Scarbrough or Darius Jackson

Scarbrough was the Cowboys’ seventh-round pick in April, so a lot of times the edge in these instances goes to a draft pick, but Jackson was a sixth-round pick by the Cowboys in 2016 and spent most of that season on the 53-man roster but was inactive each game. Injuries ruined Jackson's 18 months with the Cleveland Browns, but he returned and showed he has some juice as a runner, just like Scarbrough has. Neither runner has been helped by the blocking of the backup offensive line, but Scarbrough has 20 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown, while Jackson has 16 carries for 71 yards. Given the needs elsewhere, it is difficult to see the Cowboys keeping four tailbacks, and a case could be made they could take two and add a runner to the practice squad.

Jeron Johnson

Two weeks ago, he was a volunteer assistant coach at Eastside Catholic High School outside Seattle. Now Johnson has a chance to be on an NFL roster for the first time since 2016. It might speak to the shape of the Cowboys’ safety spot, with Xavier Woods (hamstring) and Kavon Frazier (shoulder) hurt, but Johnson's experience with passing-game coordinator Kris Richard in Seattle gives him an edge. The Cowboys will look for safety help regardless of how Johnson performs against the Texans, but he might show he can handle backup and special-teams roles.

Kony Ealy

Given his background as a former second-round pick and how well he played in Super Bowl 50 for the Panthers, it is strange seeing him on the bubble. But the Cowboys have found a lot of depth in their defensive line, which has Ealy fighting for a spot. He can play either end spot and move inside as a pass-rusher in third-down situations. Economics could play a part in the Cowboys’ decision on Ealy, who is due a $100,000 bonus if he makes the 53-man roster for the first game and an $800,000 base salary. Rookie Dorance Armstrong has outplayed Ealy and deserves a spot. Plus he Armstrong cheaper.

Duke Thomas, Marquez White or Charvarius Ward

The Cowboys should keep five corners. The top four are easy: Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown. The fifth spot comes down to Thomas, White and Ward as the staff eyes the final cuts. Ward has had the best moments in training camp practices. Thomas would have made the team a year ago if not for an ankle injury. White was a 2017 draft pick whom the Cowboys kept on the practice squad.