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Article posted: 8/29/2012 9:56 PM

Big night ahead for Bears' special teams

By Bob LeGere

The notion that there still are a lot of personnel decisions to make heading into Thursday night's preseason finale at Cleveland is ludicrous.

NFL coaching staffs are doing evaluations while they conduct off-season workout programs, hold minicamps, run OTAs (organized team activities) and then spend three weeks at training camp and play the first three preseason games.

The league has become an almost year-round operation, so most decisions regarding the final 53-man roster, which must be determined by 8 p.m. Friday, already have been made.

Asked how often a player wins a spot in the last preseason game, Bears coach Lovie Smith answered truthfully: "Not very often."

But that doesn't mean no jobs are on the line Thursday night, and players on the fringe cannot afford to mail it in during the fourth preseason game.

"We've seen a lot of guys that have performed well and, (if) they confirm what we were thinking in that last game, that's what you're looking for as much as anything," Smith said.

"We've had so many OTAs, so many practices, we've seen guys in most situations. In the end, though, you want to see how they're going to finish. When you know that you need to play the best that you can play ů you want to see how they handle that."

One area where that kind of desire is easy to spot is on special teams.

Many players who earn one of the few remaining roster spots will do so by their performance on special teams.

On many teams, especially the Bears, if it's close between two players of similar talents, the guy who's more valuable on special teams gets the nod.

Rashied Davis, who was cut Wednesday, was able to last seven years in the NFL with marginal wide receiver skills because he became an excellent special-teams player. He frequently would stress to younger players the importance of special-teams play.

"Special teams are very important, even if you're capable of breaking in on the offensive or defensive side of the ball," Davis said. "For most players, special teams are where it starts, unless you're a high draft pick.

"Sometimes it takes you a little bit to actually get your foot in the door, and special teams are where you can do that."

That's especially true for players trying to break in with the Bears. Smith prioritizes the third phase, and special-teams coordinator Dave Toub annually compiles one of the NFL's best units.

"They know how important it is," Toub said. "It starts with Lovie. Lovie emphasizes it. All the coaches do. It filters on down. The guys know how important it is, and this is a big game for (some) guys.

"There are some decisions that still need to be made. It's important that we see what we've been seeing in training camp, to kind of reinforce it."

Safety Anthony Walters was able to earn a spot on the Bears' practice squad last season partly because of his ability on special teams, and those skills could help him make the final 53 this year.

"If you're not a starter, special teams is huge, regardless," Walters said. "If you want to make the roster, it'll be through special teams. I learned that last year, and right now special teams are just as important as defense."

With most starters playing little or not at all, special-teams play could provide most of the drama against the Browns.

čLinebacker Dom DeCicco was waived/injured (groin) Wednesday, and wide receiver Terriun Crump, who was cut Sunday, was re-signed.

Crump joined the Bears this off-season as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Western Illinois. He has 1 reception for 6 yards in the preseason.

DeCicco played in all 16 games last season as an undrafted rookie out of Pitt and finished second on the Bears with 17 special-teams tackles.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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