Going deep on defense in this Cowboys' roster projection

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FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have not been in pads in the offseason, but there was plenty to glean from the three organized team activities and three minicamp practices in May and June.

So much that it's time to take a first crack at predicting the 53-man roster, even though the players will not be in pads until the third day of training camp in Oxnard, California. With that in mind, take it all with a grain (or two) of salt.

Away we go:

Quarterback (2)

Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush

The biggest question is if Prescott will have a long-term deal before Week 1, but there's also a question about the backup spot. Rush handled the job for most of the past two seasons, but he struggled at times in the offseason. Mike White, a fifth-round pick in 2018, has a lot to learn but promise remains. This could be one of the spots the Cowboys look for a more veteran option before the season starts if there's not marked improvement from Rush and/or White in camp.

Running back (4)

Ezekiel Elliott, Jamize Olawale, Tony Pollard, Darius Jackson

Like Prescott, could Elliott have a contract before the season starts? The offense still runs through him. Olawale got a lot of work in the offseason, which makes you wonder if new coordinator Kellen Moore wants to use the fullback more when things count. Pollard showed his burst during the offseason. He is the change-of-pace back behind Elliott. Jackson got the edge over seventh-round pick Mike Weber because of special teams experience at the moment, but that could flip.

Wide receiver (5)

Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Noah Brown, Allen Hurns

I struggled with this group in terms of how many and who to keep. The first four seem easy, but then it was a toss-up between Hurns, Tavon Austin and Lance Lenoir. Hurns got the final spot because if something happens to Cooper or Gallup, he can move into one of the outside receiver roles.

Tight end (3)

Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz

Witten might not play 95% of the snaps in his return, but he is going to play much more than 25 snaps a game. He looked good this offseason but knows things pick up when the pads come on. Jarwin's late-season success in 2018 has the Cowboys excited about his ability to stretch the field. Schultz is a solid combination as a blocker and receiver.

Offensive line (9)

Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming, Joe Looney, Connor McGovern, Mitch Hyatt

The Cowboys have depth that they could use to fill holes that arise later in the summer with trades. Xavier Su'a-Filo was a dependable fill-in a year ago but might be expandable this season in part because of Frederick's return and the drafting of McGovern. Hyatt gets the last spot in part because of the $150,000 guarantee he received as an undrafted free agent and in part because Collins is likely in his last year with free agency looming.

Defensive line (10)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, Robert Quinn, Taco Charlton, Trysten Hill, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Christian Covington

This is as deep as the Cowboys have been in Rod Marinelli's time as line coach. Like with the offensive line, the Cowboys could find teams calling them for potential trades. Charlton, who had offseason shoulder and ankle injuries, will need to have a good summer. If Randy Gregory gets reinstated, that makes the decisions even more difficult.

Linebacker (6)

Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, Chris Covington, Justin March-Lillard

Lee is moving to the strong side and will rotate in the nickel packages with Vander Esch and Smith. Thomas is a solid backup and can play multiple spots. Covington will have to be a special teams contributor after essentially redshirting as a rookie in 2018.

Secondary (11)

Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, George Iloka, Darian Thompson, Donovan Wilson, C.J. Goodwin, Mike Jackson

Eleven defensive backs seems high. Jones missed the offseason recovering from hip surgery, but he expects to be ready at some point during camp. With Jones, Heath and Brown set to be free agents when the season ends, the Cowboys might go with more depth here to think about the future, which is why Jackson is on the list. The toughest decision here was letting go of Kavon Frazier. It could be Frazier or Iloka when the season rolls around.

Specialists (3)

Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur

Maher won the job last summer and made 29 of 36 kicks in 2018. Jones needs to have a more productive season at punter than he had a year ago. Ladouceur, the long-snapper, seems ageless.