CLEVELAND -- Brilliant performances in the final game of the preseason, alone, rarely move the staff so much it decides to keep a player on the final 53-man roster.
But for players teetering on the edge, the final exhibition outing means everything, which makes the description "three dogs, one bone" used by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli apt for describing the situation for Thursday night's preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.
"This is the last shot, end of training camp, to prove that (you) belong in the NFL," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "A lot of times you really see something special from a guy when he's up against the wall like that, and that's what we want to see. If you have something that you've been saving -- some special play, to get you over the hump -- then this is definitely the time to do it. Once you get to the fourth quarter (of) the last game, guys know what's at stake."
Although the fate of many players is already sealed going into Thursday night's game, with the majority of the frontline contributors expected to sit, this contest will likely decide several close battles for backup spots and roles on special teams.
"We've had so many OTAs and so many practices, we've seen guys in most situations," Smith said. "But in the end, you want to see how they're going to finish. When you know you need to play the best you can play, you want to see how they handle that."
The Bears cut to the final 53-man roster on Friday.
Here's a look at 10 on-the-bubble players who could help themselves with strong performances against the Cleveland Browns:
RB Armando Allen: Locked in a battle with veteran Lorenzo Booker, Allen might be more familiar with the offense having spent last season and the entire offseason with the Bears. Through the preseason, Allen has averaged just 1.4 yards per carry. So he'll need to show more as a rusher against the Browns. Special teams coach Dave Toub said the fourth phase will likely decide the winner of the spot between Allen and Booker.
"They're both very close," Toub said. "That's one of the battles we're having that's going to come to a head here during this game; that battle for the third running back spot."
RB Lorenzo Booker: Signed on July 17, Booker appeared to be behind initially in the competition with Allen. But a 105-yard kickoff return against the Washington Redskins caught the staff's attention. Because he's a fifth-year veteran, Booker will be more expensive to keep than Allen. So Booker needs to justify what would be a higher salary with output on the field.
Booker has averaged 2.7 yards per carry in the preseason, and 59 yards per kickoff return.
"What I'm going to do Thursday is go out there and do what I've been doing every day in training camp and every preseason game, and that's lay it all out on the line," Booker said. "At the end of the day, you have to be content with your best. That's what I'm going to do and I'm going to be O.K. with, no matter what they decide."
DT Brian Price: The Bears traded a seventh-round pick in late July to acquire Price from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and early on, the defensive tackle couldn't even make it through a full workout at training camp. Having dealt with physical issues and personal tragedies throughout his short career, Price gradually improved his conditioning during camp and the staff points out it has seen several flash plays from the former second-round pick in practice and preseason games.
Price comes into the exhibition finale with four tackles in three outings.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Smith said. "We've seen him improve as a ballplayer and that normally helps your mental state also, how it's going on the football field for you. He's made some plays. We've seen flashes of what we brought him here to do, and this will be an important game for him."
LB J.T. Thomas: A sixth-round pick in 2011, Thomas spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve. But according to linebackers coach Bob Babich, "J.T. Thomas has had a good training camp." Given uncertainty about Brian Urlacher's long-term prospects, the Bears need depth at linebacker, and Thomas -- who is No. 3 on the team in preseason tackles with 13 stops -- flashes the run-and-hit ability the Bears covet. He'll be competing with Jabara Williams, Patrick Trahan and Xavier Adibi for one of the last spots.
Thomas' situation is complicated by an unresolved offseason arrest for marijuana possession, which makes him subject to league discipline.
CB Isaiah Frey: A sixth-round pick, Frey finds himself in a hotly contested battle for one of the cornerback spots. The Bears finished the 2011 season with five cornerbacks on the roster. So with spots locked up for Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden, Jonathan Wilhite and D.J. Moore, Frey appears to be a candidate for the practice squad unless he can show enough on special teams to warrant a place on the 53-man roster.
FB Tyler Clutts: The Bears finished the 2011 season with four running backs -- including Clutts -- on the roster, but just three tight ends. Now, it's likely the Bears will decide to go heavier in 2012 at tight end with so many talented players such as Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams and Evan Rodriguez at the position, meaning the club will likely go lighter at the running back position.
In addition, the Bears have spent the preseason using tight ends in the backfield as lead blockers, which has taken away a significant amount of repetitions from Clutts this preseason. Clutts' ability as a deep snapper will help him.
TE Kyle Adams: Played the first nine games as a rookie in 2011, but finished the season on the injured reserve because of a hamstring issue. Adam leads the club's tight ends in receiving through the preseason (4 catches, 43 yards), and appears to have beaten out Rodriguez for the "F" role. But a roster spot isn't assured because of the team's depth at the position.
WR Brittan Golden: An undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M, Golden opened eyes during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp with sure hands, precise route running, and run-after-catch ability. But he's received few opportunities in preseason games (2 catches for 14 yards).
Going off Golden's performances in workouts from the offseason up to now, it appears the Bears are limiting his snaps in preseason outings in an attempt to limit his exposure on film to other teams that might also be interested. Golden appears to be a practice-squad candidate at this point.
WR Terriun Crump: The fact the Bears waived Crump on Sunday, then brought him back Wednesday means the club either wants to take another look or it needs another body at receiver to get it through the exhibition finale. Either way, it's a situation worth watching.
Crump (6-2, 223 pounds) has caught just one pass throughout the preseason, while Joe Anderson -- another big undrafted rookie receiver -- has shined (third in preseason receiving with 5 catches for 33 yards).
OG Ricky Henry: A rookie in 2011, Henry spent the first 10 weeks of last season on the practice squad but was elevated in Week 11 to the active roster, and made his NFL debut in Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers. With Chris Spencer, Lance Louis, and Chilo Rachal entrenched as the top guards, along with Edwin Williams, who can play multiple positions on the offensive line, Henry will have a difficult time making the roster again in 2012. Still, the team needs depth and Henry possesses the nastiness craved by offensive coordinator Mike Tice.