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Final pitch in Dallas


One starting job and a handful of roster spots will be on the line Thursday night in Dallas, when the Jaguars close their preseason against the Dallas Cowboys.

Ephraim Salaam is expected to get the start at left offensive tackle and that may be an indication that Salaam is the leading candidate to be the starter at that position in the Jaguars' regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Mike Pearson, however, can still win back the job.

"It's extraordinary to think how far Mike Pearson has come," coach Jack Del Rio said, referring to Pearson's rehabilitation from reconstructive knee surgery. Pearson suffered tears of three knee ligaments in the fourth game of last season and underwent major surgery and an intense rehab, but Pearson made it through training camp and three games of this preseason without setback.

One roster hot spot is also thought to be on the offensive line. The Jaguars will probably keep nine offensive linemen and interior linemen Dennis Norman, Brett Romberg, Joe Tate and Dan Connolly are thought to be competing for the ninth and final spot.

Tight end is another hot spot but Todd Yoder's knee injury is confusing matters there. Brian Jones may need a big game in Dallas to make the team.

Undrafted rookie running back Derrick Wimbush has made a major impact on special teams and could oust Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala with another strong special teams performance on Thursday.

The Jaguars currently have seven wide receivers and will probably carry six on their final roster. Even though Cortez Hankton is unlikely to play against the Cowboys because of a high-ankle sprain that has bothered Hankton throughout training camp and the preseason, Hankton is likely to make the final roster.

Jimmy McClain was re-signed to the roster on Wednesday, putting the linebackers at eight on the roster and meaning one will probably go in final cuts.

The remaining two big roster battles on Thursday night will be on the defensive line and at cornerback. The Jaguars have a logjam on the defensive line, where they currently have 13 players on their roster but may keep only eight. The issue would seem to be between defensive end Marcellus Wiley and defensive tackle Tony Williams, bearing in mind that Rob Meier can play end and tackle. Wiley is the favorite to win a roster spot heading to Dallas. Williams' hopes rest with an especially strong performance against the Cowboys, which could cause Del Rio to view Meier more as an end than as a tackle.

At cornerback, Terry Cousin, Kiwaukee Thomas, David Richardson and Chris Thompson would seem to be fighting for the fourth and final roster spot. Rashean Mathis is the starter at left corner and Kenny Wright was named this week as the starter at right corner, and third-round pick Scott Starks is thought to be a developmental candidate.

The Jaguars would seem to be set with five safeties, which includes rookie Gerald Sensabaugh, a fifth-round draft pick who also shows promise at the cornerback position.

"We don't anticipate playing our starting players for long," Del Rio said. "The two major keys to this game is to complete the evaluation process and to get our team to the opener healthy."

All NFL teams must cut their rosters to 53 players by 6 p.m. this Saturday.

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