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Chicago Bears

With Amukamara out, Tolliver gets his shot to impress

Chicago Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) reacts to a defensive stop against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Chicago Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) reacts to a defensive stop against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Akiem Hicks practiced in full this week after returning from his injured reserve stint with a dislocated elbow Sunday and is expected to play against the Chiefs despite an official questionable designation on the final injury report, where he was listed Friday for the first time in Week 16.

Fellow starter Prince Amukamara also is listed as questionable, but after being downgraded from full participant Wednesday to limited Thursday and Friday with a balky hamstring that sidelined him two weeks ago and cut into his snaps in Green Bay, his status is less certain.

Although Matt Nagy has indicated on several occasions that his team would “keep rolling” and use all healthy hands on deck in the final two games after being eliminated from playoff contention in Week 15, it’s clear the hamstring injury that Amukamara suffered on Thanksgiving Day remains.

And with Amukamara’s status with the team also unclear next season, when the Bears potentially can save $8 million by cutting the soon-to-be 31-year-old, there could be motivation for both parties to sitting the veteran cornerback.

In Amukamara’s case, his opportunity to potentially cash in on another multiyear deal – which he only obtained from the Bears after back-to-back one-year prove-it pacts in Jacksonville and Chicago – certainly could be tied to his health.

From the Bears’ perspective, if they’re expecting to part ways with Amukamara and go younger at the cornerback spot opposite Pro Bowl-alternate Kyle Fuller, Sunday night against the high-flying Chiefs would mark the best opportunity to evaluate promising sophomore Kevin Toliver.

“When he has gotten his opportunity, he has gone out there and done some good things. It’s never perfect. It’s a hard job. He’s doing a nice job with the reps that he’s getting,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said of the 2018 undrafted free agent from LSU who never quite matched expectations in Baton Rouge as a former five-star recruit but has acquitted himself well in sporadic chances thus far as a pro.

Toliver made an impressive breakup on a sideline pass from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams on Sunday, when he started in a rotation with Amukamara before taking over for good in the second half. He also flashed physicality in support, fighting off an Adams block to shut down a wide receiver screen. Of course, he was trucked at the goal line on Aaron Jones’ second TD run and flagged on special teams, illustrating, unsurprisingly, that the long and athletic press corner with pedigree, but not a ton of experience remains a work in progress.

It’s no wonder Pagano cited “experience” and “confidence” as the two greatest potential benefits in Toliver getting more opportunities over the final two games.

He was beat for a touchdown by Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper two weeks ago in his only 2019 start, but that required a precision downfield throw by the NFL passing leader in garbage time to complete.

“I liked the way that he played,” Nagy said afterward. “We went in cover zero on the play he got beat for the touchdown, and Dak made a [heck] of a throw, dropped it right in the bucket. But for the most part, overall, I thought it was good for him. He got a chance to go out there and see what he could do. Every bit of experience that he can get is only going to help make him better down the road.”

With Toliver perhaps more likely than Amukamara to remain in the Bears’ down-the-road plans, the final two games could loom especially large against the Chiefs’ speed merchants Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins and the Vikings’ outstanding tandem of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

The same probably can be said for swing offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas, who’s in line for his third straight start with Bobby Massie (ankle) again out, and Javon Wims, who should get more run in a third consecutive missed game for Taylor Gabriel (concussion).

The 10-4 Chiefs, who already have locked up their division but still have a shot at a first-round bye, will be without starting left guard Andrew Wylie and reserve corner Mo Claiborne (shoulder). Kansas City should welcome back starting running back Damien Williams (rib) from a three-game absence to a recalibrated backfield, where veteran Spencer Ware and rookie Darwin Thompson have earned increased touches alongside the still-dangerous LeSean McCoy, 31, the NFL’s third-leading active rusher.

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