The Bears will once again be shorthanded in their secondary in Sunday's crucial regular-season finale against the Packers at Soldier Field.
Nickel back Buster Skrine will sit out his fourth straight game with a concussion and starting cornerback Jaylon Johnson will be sidelined for the third consecutive contest with a shoulder injury.
In keeping with their next-man-up mentality, the Bears have relied on young replacements Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor to step in and contribute at nickel back and cornerback, respectively.
"They've done an excellent job," said defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend. "They get in there competing. They tackle well. They challenge in the pass game. That's all you can ask for."
Shelley has played 80, 97 and 80 percent of the defense's snaps in the last three games, registering 13 tackles and one pass breakup. In a 33-27 win over the Vikings Dec. 20 in Minneapolis, the 2019 sixth-round pick from Kansas State made two huge tackles one yard short of a first down on drives that ended with Minnesota turning the ball over on downs.
"It's been exciting and it's great for him to get that opportunity and play ball," said veteran defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. "One of my favorite plays so far from him was when he smacked one quarterback. Was it Mike Glennon? He smacked somebody and knocked the taste out of his mouth.
"I'm excited for young guys to get the opportunity to get out here and play some good football and contribute to this team. That's what they work for all year—that moment when they get called up. And so you wish them the best and you want them to play well and fit into your defense."
Vildor, a rookie fifth-round pick from Georgia Southern, has played 44 and 100 percent of the defense's snaps the past two weeks, recording 11 tackles.
The Bears won't be surprised if savvy Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers targets the inexperienced cornerback early and often Sunday.
"[Vildor] is well aware of who we're going against," said coach Matt Nagy. "There's going to be plays made by those guys and, like we said yesterday, you've got to be able to regroup and you go make a play now."
Five other Bears players are listed as questionable for Sunday's game: Return specialist/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) and safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (neck) practiced without restrictions Friday, while tight ends Cole Kmet (shoulder) and Demetrius Harris (foot) and safety Deon Bush (foot) were limited.
Receiver Allen Robinson II (hamstring), outside linebacker Khalil Mack (shoulder) and Shelley (knee) were also limited in practice Friday, but they were not assigned an injury designation, meaning that they're expected to play.
The Packers, meanwhile, are dealing with the sudden and surprising loss of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari, who tore his ACL in practice Thursday.
Asked how Bakhtiari's absence would impact the Packers, Hicks declined to speculate.
"To be respectful to what he's going through right now, I'd rather not talk about his injury, but I will say you feel for a guy," Hicks said. "You know sometimes the game isn't fair. Sometimes you put all your work in and you try as hard as you can and you get an unfortunate situation. So with respect to him, I wish him well. But I'd rather not talk about how he's hurt."
Also for the Packers, starting defensive end Kingsley Keke (concussion) has been ruled out of Sunday's game, while reserve guard Simon Stepaniak (knee) is questionable after practicing without restrictions all week.