BEREA - Among many position battles shaping up in the final preseason game is for what could be the final safety spot.
T.J. Ward and second-year player Eric Hagg appear locked in as starters. Ray Ventrone will likely stay as a special teams performer. Usama Young and free agent Davis Sims could be contending for one spot, along with Tashaun Gipson.
Young hasn't ingratiated himself to the front office by missing much of training camp and all three preseason games with a leg injury. On the flip side, Sims has two interceptions and would have had another if not for a penalty that negated the play. Coach Pat Shurmur hasn't said much about Gipson, a rookie free agent from Wyoming, but it's believed that he's made a favorable impression.
Sims knows he can't let up against the Chicago Bears in the final preseason game Thursday.
"It's little things here like messing up on a missed assignment," Sims said. "I have to sharpen up on those because they have to trust you to be back there to play safety or special teams. Everybody sees the big plays, but they don't see the little things."
Like many players on the roster bubble Sims is well aware that his play on special teams could make a difference. He's currently a second-team player on special teams.
"Special teams are the biggest part for me," Sims said. "If I make this team, I'm going to be playing special teams."
NERVOUS TIME: Rookie fullback Brad Smelley admits that there are some nerves surrounding his final chance to impress the coaches.
"It's a little bit of an uneasy feeling," said Smelley, a seventh-round draft choice from Alabama. "That can be said for a lot of guys. The bottom line is they're cutting to 53. You just have to play well. I'm not trying to over-analyze anything."
PRACTICE SQUAD: It looks like rookie free agent receiver Josh Cooper's best chance to stick with the team is on the practice squad. Cooper has had some good days, but he's lost in a numbers' game that includes Mohamed Massaquoi, Greg Little, Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, Joshua Cribbs and Jordan Norwood.
"I'm not really trying to think about it too much now," Cooper said. "I'm trying to focus on the game and get prepared for that."
"It's hard to get the defensive line exactly the way you want it," Shurmur said. "So you're always looking for guys to come in and generate a pass rush or stop the run. We'll constantly do the best we can at that position."
CAMPING OUT: Linebacker Scott Fujita (knee) wore a helmet and pads for the first time since suffering his injury. He ran sprints with fellow linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Kaluka Maiava Quarterback Thad Lewis took the majority of reps, which means he'll probably get plenty of playing time against the Bears. Lewis threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Ward Little dropped a well-thrown ball on an out route. Receiver Rod Windsor also dropped a pass. As a bubble player, Windsor can't afford many drops.