Bears' ‘next man up' mentality will be tested with Kevin Toliver II against Buccaneers' receivers

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Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and Marcus Cooper (hamstring) both did not practice for the second consecutive day on Thursday, leaving a strong possibility undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver II will be in line to get plenty of playing time against the high-powered air attack of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Toliver played 22 snaps after Amukamara exited the Bears’ 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals with that hamstring injury, and while he got beat on a Christian Kirk double move for a 32-yard gain in the fourth quarter, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought the LSU product held his own. 

“They obviously went after him a little bit there towards the end,” Fangio said. “We helped them some. Sometimes we didn’t. And I thought he responded well. They caught some balls in front of him and he got double-moved. 

“So it was baptism under fire. But I didn’t see a guy out there who looked out of place. And I’m glad he got those 20-something reps, because I think it helps him for this week.”

That 32-yard play on which Toliver got burned came on a third-and-five, and he admitted he was trying a little too hard to make a play to force a stop and a punt (“eyes were in the wrong area,” Toliver said. “That was a mistake on me.”). 

While the Bears trust their go-to nickel corner, Bryce Callahan, to play outside in their base 3-4 defense, Tampa Bay’s trio of productive receivers likely will lead Fangio having to frequently use nickel packages. The Buccaneers have had at least three receivers on the field on 58 percent of their plays this year, with Mike Evans (156 snaps), Adam Humphries (126 snaps), Chris Godwin (112 snaps) and DeSean Jackson (96 snaps) all heavily used. 

The Evans-Godwin-Jackson trio has combined for 48 receptions on 63 targets for 850 yards with nine touchdowns in three games. And as long as Toliver is on the field, he can expect to be picked on no matter who he’s lining up over. 

“If I was at any team, as long as I’m out there I know they’re going to throw my way,” Toliver said. “I just have to be ready, be prepared.” 

The Bears liked Toliver’s length and athleticism coming out of training camp, which is why they decided to keep him over a more experienced guy in Cre’Von LeBlanc (who’s now on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad). A former blue-chip recruit, Toliver didn’t pan out at LSU and wound up going undrafted despite leaving school a year early. 

But that experience playing in front of over 100,000 fans at Death Valley, or in huge, pressure-packed games across the SEC prepared Toliver for this moment. 

“LSU, they really got more fans in the stadium than a lot of NFL teams,” Toliver said. “That aspect of the game wasn’t really nerve-wracking for me.”

The spotlight will be on Toliver on Sunday in a different way, though. The Bears need him to make good on that next-man-up mentality and not be a reason why they head into the bye week 2-2 instead of 3-1. 

So you’ll probably hear Toliver’s name quite a bit on Sunday. Tampa Bay would be foolish to not test him, and he knows that. But it’s also an opportunity for an undrafted rookie to not just show he belongs in the NFL, but take it a step further. 

“I embrace that challenge,” Toliver said. “I love that challenge. I love this stage of my career, just guys trying me. Got to make a name for myself.” 

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