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Preseason finale could loom large in shaping Bears' final roster

Mario Addis(right tangling with Stephen Paea) is considered sleeper whom Bears don’t want risk losing. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Mario Addison (right, tangling with Stephen Paea) is considered a sleeper whom the Bears don’t want to risk losing. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:45AM

The fourth preseason game might seem meaningless, but it can have subtle consequences.

Last year, Henry Melton was on the bubble going into the preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns, but he solidified his roster spot with seven tackles in a standout game. Melton established himself in the rotation at defensive tackle last season, and now the Bears are counting on him taking a big step in place of former Pro Bowler Tommie Harris.

On the other hand, Todd Collins solidified his role as the No. 2 quarterback with a sterling performance — 10-for-15 for 139 yards, one touchdown and a 118.5 passer rating — against a mediocre Browns defense playing only three starters. Collins never was the same against real NFL competition, finishing the season with a 1.9 passer rating.

For players fighting for a roster spot, it’s their last chance to make an impression. Or at least it might be. Joaquin Iglesias caught a 39-yard touchdown pass in last year’s preseason finale and was cut. Kevin Malast had 12 tackles and a sack and was cut. In 2009, Ervin Baldwin had two sacks in the finale but was cut in favor of Matt Toeaina, who had one sack. Toeaina is another former bubble survivor who won’t have to sweat over the weekend.

‘‘It’s nerve-racking,’’ Melton said. ‘‘You don’t know your spot or if you have a spot or if they’re judging off the last game or if they already have their mind made up. You just go out there to put on film for them and for other teams, just in case. You should go out there and play as hard as you can.’’

So it’s hard to say what, if anything, is at stake tonight when the Bears face the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field. Does Dane Sanzenbacher still need to prove he’s worth carrying a sixth receiver? Can Nick Reed win the final defensive line spot? If the Bears like rookie Kyle Adams as an H-back, do fullbacks Eddie Williams and Will Tu’ofo’ou have anything to play for? Is rookie J.T. Thomas on the bubble or not? Is there anything defensive tackle Marcus Harrison can do to make this team? Will special teams open a spot for safety Winston Venable or linebacker Patrick Trahan?

Nobody on the bubble is too secure. Asked if he felt he had done enough, Sanzenbacher said, ‘‘Not yet. I think there’s still a lot of work to do this week. You never stop proving yourself, especially when you’re in my position. You can’t rest on anything.’’

Undrafted rookie defensive end Mario Addison typifies the uncertainty of the final preseason game. The Bears think he’s a sleeper, but he’s raw. Is he worth a spot on the 53-man roster, or is he better off on the practice squad? And can the Bears even get him there without the risk of losing him to another team?

‘‘I’d like to see him one more time,’’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Wednesday.

But even that can be dicey, Marinelli said. By resting starters, you give so many young players extensive playing time that one of them might show too much, making the practice squad a risky proposition.

This game can be nerve-racking for more than the players.

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