The Bears still believe in second-year cornerback Kindle Vildor and are trying to avoid crushing his confidence after replacing him as the starter following a pair of costly mishaps against the Ravens on Nov. 21. But even that became problematic last week.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai had planned to start veteran Artie Burns against the Lions on Thanksgiving while still having cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend use Vildor in a rotation. Instead, it turned into a full-blown benching, with Vildor not getting one snap on defense.
“Quite frankly, I probably should have played him more in the Detroit game,” Desai said. “The plan was to play him more from my end and Coach Deshea’s, and it kind of got away, the way the game kind of flowed. That sometimes happens.”
Desai knew he had some damage control to do after that.
“I talked to Kindle right after the game, too, and he understood,” Desai said. “He knows that he’s still an important part of our defense that we’re gonna need. His approach has been great.”
The Thanksgiving episode typifies the Bears’ struggle to fill the cornerback hole opposite Jaylon Johnson after salary-cap issues forced general manager Ryan Pace to cut veteran Kyle Fuller in the offseason.
Pace signed veteran Desmond Trufant to compete with Vildor for the starting job. But Vildor, who turns 24 on Dec. 11, won the spot by default when Trufant left camp to visit his ailing
father, who passed away Aug. 15. Trufant was released in the Bears’ final roster cutdown before he returned to the team.
The 5-11, 183-pound Vildor was inconsistent at best as the starter, but his shortcomings weren’t as noticeable on a defense that led the NFL in sacks, with outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn playing at a Pro Bowl level. Vildor’s inexperience showed but still could be excused as growing pains.
It came to a head against the Ravens in Week 11, when Vildor had an early sack but made two egregious errors that sparked the Ravens’ winning touchdown drive in the final 1:33: a 21-yard pass interference penalty and a miscommunication that left wide receiver Sammy Watkins open for a 29-yard reception to the Bears’ 3-yard line.
With the Bears on the fringe of playoff contention — they’re currently one game behind seventh-seeded Washington but with six other teams ahead of them — they might be better off letting Vildor learn the hard way and see if there’s a future payoff. It’s not as if Prince Amukamara is ahead of him.
“That’s always a tough call,” Desai acknowledged. “And that’s part of our jobs, to find that balance of taking lumps, and we’ve been pretty balanced in terms of that. He’s flashed in a positive way at some points throughout the season. It’s nothing against him. It’s kind of what we felt was a necessary change as a unit — and it’s not a permanent change.”
Desai sees the potential. But sometimes when you don’t have a lot of competition at a position, you see more in a young player than is actually there. Other times, you’re under so much pressure to fill a spot, you give up too soon.
That’s why guys like Pace and Desai get paid the big bucks.
“When you’re in the meeting room and you’re with the person every day for a long time, you can see where the guy is improving mentally, and then on the field, you’ve got to make sure it matches,” Desai said. “[Vildor has] been able to do that. He understands what we want of him in that role, and he understands the techniques and the tools we want.”
And they’re not giving up on him yet.
“Kindle is not a non-starter,” Desai said. “He’s still part of our plans, and we’re going to continue to develop him that way.”