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Chicago Bears’ Best-Case Scenario is Starting Nickelback is Already on the Roster

The Bears’ decision to cut cornerback Buster Skine was an expected one.

After the 31 year old suffered a concussion in the Week 13 loss to Detroit, Skrine didn’t appear in the remaining five games (including the Wild-card game against New Orleans). 

Skrine’s injury coupled with his inconsistent play in 2020 put the writing on the wall for the 10-year veteran. Also, the move freed up roughly $2.7 million in cap space. 

Now, the Bears will have to find a reliable nickel corner to fill this hole on defense. Free agency and the draft are of course routes Chicago could take. But the ideal scenario is that either Duke Shelley or Kindle Vildor can take over as the starter. 

It’s no secret the Bears have other glaring needs, especially on offense. So, if there is a way to avoid using a draft pick or limited cap space on a free agent, this will allow general manager Ryan Pace to allocate resources to those other areas. 

(Photo: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports)

Shelley — a former 2019 sixth-round pick out of Kansas State — replaced Skrine after his injury last season. Despite being 5-foot-8, 183 pounds, Shelley showed he was capable of making open-field tackles against bigger opponents. 

In the Week 15 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, Shelley trips up running back Dalvin Cook to limit the run to only two yards. 

However, he also was singled out as the weak link in coverage, especially in the regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers. Shelley gave up two receptions for 12 yards and a touchdown, but it could’ve easily been another score. On the Packers’ first drive of the third quarter, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a wide open touchdown after he ran past Shelley on a post route

Similar to Shelley, Vildor — a 2020 fifth-round draft pick from Georgia Southern — also got an opportunity to play on defense because of an injury. Rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson injured his shoulder against the Houston Texans in Week 13 and missed the rest of the season. Vildor filled in and in his 135 total defensive snaps, there were flashes of him jumping routes and making plays on the ball. 

In that same game against Green Bay, Vildor nearly comes away with his first career interception on this second-and-7 play. 

A week earlier, though, the Jacksonville Jaguars had some success targeting Vildor. He gave up five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown, including this 20-yard TD to wide receiver D.J. Chark. 

Both Shelley and Vildor were outside corners in college, and Shelley has already made the transition to playing inside. When the Bears drafted Vildor, Pace said that he was capable of playing as the slot corner. Plus, Vildor has also trained with private defensive backs coach Oliver Davis at the position as well. 

Only time will tell if the Bears will feel comfortable with Shelley or Vildor taking over as the starting nickelback. If that doesn’t happen, though, then Chicago will be forced to use their limited resources to address the vacancy on defense. 

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