The Bears will once again be missing two of their top five defensive backs Sunday when they visit the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
Nickel back Buster Skrine will sit out his third straight contest with a concussion and cornerback Jaylon Johnson will be sidelined for the second consecutive game with a shoulder injury.
Second-year pro Duke Shelley has filled in admirably for Skrine in back-to-back wins over the Texans and Vikings. In Shelley's first expanded NFL action on defense, the 2019 sixth-round draft pick registered three tackles and one pass breakup against Houston. He then followed with seven tackles versus Minnesota—including two crucial stops one yard short of a first down on drives that ended with the Vikings turning the ball over on downs.
Shelley is also dealing with an injury, however. He was limited in practice Friday due to knee and foot issues and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
Rookie fifth-round pick Kindle Vildor started in place of Johnson last Sunday against the Vikings and registered five tackles. On the first possession of the game, he made an excellent open-field stop of star running back Dalvin Cook, who congratulated Vildor after the play.
"Kindle got up and thought he was going to talk some trash to him and he was ready to bite his damn throat off," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said with a laugh, "and he was actually telling him, 'Nice job, kid. Nice tackle.' You could see Kindle, he was in his grill, and then he was like, 'Oh, OK, yeah, yeah, yeah, thank you.' It was pretty cool."
Coach Matt Nagy is confident that Shelley and Vildor will continue to thrive and grow.
"I think every day, every game they play, they're going to get more and more confidence, that's just natural," Nagy said. "They're both locked in the right way, they have the right mindset. And they're very coachable. So they're only going to learn through the fire and through experience, and so far I thought that last week they had some good plays in there that they made. Seeing where they're at this week, they've had a good week of practice.
"There's going to be times where they make mistakes mentally—that sometimes y'all won't even see or know because you don't know the scheme. Other times you're going to know it because they get beat one-on-one. It's how you rebound from that, and I think they're both mentally locked in that way."
In other injury news, tight end Demetrius Harris (foot) returned to practice in limited fashion Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday and was originally listed as doubtful, but will miss Sunday's contest after being downgraded to out on Saturday.
The Bears have seven other veterans listed as questionable, mostly for precautionary reasons: receivers Allen Robinson II (hamstring) and Cordarrelle Patterson (knee); defensive tackles Akiem Hicks (ankle) and Bilal Nichols (knee); defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (hamstring); outside linebacker Khalil Mack (shoulder); and safety Deon Bush (foot).
"I do feel optimistic about them [playing Sunday], I really do," Nagy said. "This part of the season, in my opinion, you have to still stay the course with the practices and when you're doing it. But then there might be a little bit of pull-back in regards to knowing that, 'Hey, you're in Week 16, Week 17.' You've got to be smart, too. You've got to make sure that you're taking care of these guys so that they're ready to go.
"We want to be getting stronger as the season goes on and not going the other way, because we think that can help us win games. So it's not just my decision. But it's all of ours decisions, with the different silos of the trainers and Jen Gibson with our dietician and Jason Loscalzo with our strength coach, to make sure that we're handling these guys, keeping their strengths, but yet still taking care of them. I think that's all a little bit of that process as we go through this."
For the Jaguars, rookie running back James Robinson was listed as questionable Friday after sitting out practice all week with an ankle injury, but was downgraded to out on Saturday and will miss Sunday's game. Robinson ranks third in the NFL in rushing behind the Titans' Derrick Henry and the Vikings' Cook with 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns on 240 carries. The Rockford native and Illinois State product is just the fourth undrafted rookie to rush for at least 1,000 yards in NFL history.
Also for Jacksonville, receiver Collin Johnson (hamstring) has been ruled out of Sunday's game, while cornerback Sidney Jones IV (Achilles) was placed on injured reserve Saturday after being originally listed as out Friday.