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updated: 8/26/2011 5:52 PM

For many Bears it's do or goodbye Saturday

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  • Bears backup running back Chester Taylor must leap over teammate Marion Barber to earn a roster spot behind Matt Forte.

      Bears backup running back Chester Taylor must leap over teammate Marion Barber to earn a roster spot behind Matt Forte.
    Associated Press

 
 

Bears coach Lovie Smith has always said he wants to win anytime the scoreboard is functioning, and Saturday's preseason Game 3 against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville is no different.

But individual results are what really matter in the preseason, as coaches make evaluations and decisions that determine who will start, who will back up and who will become former Bears.

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Because teams game plan on a limited basis for the third game and because starters typically play much more, Game 3 is can be an accurate barometer of where players are in their development.

It's easier to predict how well someone like Roy Williams will produce in the regular season when he plays with -- and against -- starters for an entire half and probably longer. It also gives someone like Johnny Knox an opportunity to prove he deserves to get his starting job back from Williams.

The loser in the Williams-Knox fight could still wind up with 40 or so catches in a Mike Martz offense that works best when passes are distributed to several targets.

But other individual battles that will be waged Saturday will have more at stake, such as continued employment in the NFL, or at least with the Bears.

The defensive line is arguably the Bears' deepest position, so players on the bubble -- like Marcus Harrison and Vernon Gholston -- will be getting their last chance to show they belong on the final 53-man roster.

Harrison got off to a lousy start, reporting overweight for the second time in three seasons and was not allowed to participate in the first few days of practice until he reduced from 327 to 316 pounds. This is likely the last chance for the 2008 third-round pick.

"He feels the intensity of the situation right now," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "And he's been playing hard. That's what I like. The effort has been outstanding. We've still got to clean up technique and some of those things, but the urgency of the situation, I sense that from him and I like that."

But it may still be too late for Harrison. Gholston must show he can make a difference in pass-rush situations to have a chance, but it has yet to happen.

"He's just solid right now," Marinelli said. "He's making progress, but it's got to be bigger. For all of these guys, this week is important. A lot of these men have to make another big step for us. It's going to be a critical week."

The first roster cuts are due Tuesday, when teams must reduce to 80, so only about 10 players will be cut. But the final cutdown is just four days later, on Sept. 3.

The Bears' pass rush in general hasn't impressed Marinelli, so chances are he and the other defensive coaches will look favorably on anyone who can help Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije get after the quarterback.

"Our first group hasn't had the look yet; not as many (sacks) as I would like," Marinelli said. "It's just solid, nothing to make anyone jump over a fence and throw them bouquets. We've got a lot of work to do. It's still not enough."

Smith has preached take-aways since he ran his first practice at Halas Hall, but that's another area that has been deficient in the preseason.

"We have one take-away in the preseason," Smith said. "That's just not us."

On offense, Smith is looking to take better advantage of scoring opportunities.

"Red zone offense," he said. "Just getting touchdowns, getting points. We were down there a lot Monday night (41-13 loss to the Giants); but you've got to cash in."

That would seem to be another vote for Marion Barber, who has clearly outplayed Chester Taylor in the battle for the backup job behind Matt Forte. One of Barber's fortes is his powerful running in short-yardage situations.

"You can always use a hard-nosed, tough tailback to get those tough yards, and he has a history in the NFL," Smith said. "We thought he would be a good addition to our team. Both times he's gotten an opportunity to play, he's showed us why we went out and got him and why he'll be a valuable part of our offense this year."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports via Twitter @BobLeGere and check out our Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com.

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