Kindle Vildor’s moment has arrived
After a brief stint as a rookie last season in place of injured starter Jaylon Johnson, the Bears’ second-year cornerback is competing with veteran Desmond Trufant for the starting job.
When Kindle Vildor was growing up in Atlanta, he was rooting for Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant. Now he’s trying to take his job.
“It’s actually crazy because he’s in Atlanta and I’m from Atlanta, so when the Falcons drafted him, I was a freshman in high school,” said Vildor, the Bears’ second-year cornerback from Georgia Southern. “I was watching Falcons games growing up, and I was a big fan of him. So now that he’s on my team, it’s crazy how everything works.”
Vildor and Trufant are sharing first-team reps in competition for the starting cornerback job opposite Jaylon Johnson. Trufant has the edge in experience. A starter since Week 1 of his rookie season with the Falcons — when he set a franchise rookie record with 17 pass breakups — Trufant made the Pro Bowl after the 2015 season.
But Trufant is coming off back-to-back seasons marred by injury. He has missed 17 games in the last two seasons, with the Falcons in 2019 and the Lions last year. The 23-year-old Vildor, a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, is younger and with less wear- and-tear on him.
And he impressed former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and secondary coach Deshea Townsend in particular in five games in place of injured starter Johnson last season — including starts against the Jaguars in Week 16 and the Saints in the playoffs.
“It showed I can play in this league,” the 5-11, 183-pound Vildor said. “Just getting that experience and going up against top receivers like Justin Jefferson, [Adam] Theilen and actually starting in the playoff game — it boosted my confidence to another level. It’s always about confidence.”
Vildor had 17 tackles in 207 snaps in those five games with a pass breakup against the Packers. Overall, he earned a shot at the job full time.
Townsend said Vildor benefitted from being a backup last season.
“He had a chance to learn and watch others. That was good for Kindle’s growth,” Townsend said. “He didn’t come in being forced to play. So he had an opportunity to get a lot of scout-team reps, hear a lot of the coaching, watch what he could’ve done differently.
“He made the most of it when he got his opportunity. And when you saw him in those opportunities, the things that got him here, you saw it. He could press. He’s a press corner. He has long arms. He can get his hands on guys. And that’s the thing you want to see him do and get better at.”
A veteran ostensibly helping a younger player take his job is one of the rites of passage in the NFL. So Vildor and Trufant are still more teammates than competitors.
“[I’m] just learning from him because he has a lot of experience in this league and everything that he knows, I put into my game,” Vildor said.
Trufant’s biggest message?
“Just staying focused,” Vildor said. “It’s a long process. It’s a marathon. So just staying focused and keep working.”
Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller was Vildor’s mentor last year. “He was a good dude,” Vildor said. “When I started playing more toward the end of the year, he started teaching me things and I was watching film with him.”
When Fuller signed with the Broncos as a free agent in the offseason, Vildor knew he had an opportunity to replace him. “It’s a big opportunity for me to solidify myself as a starter in this league and on this team,” Vildor said. “I know nothing is going to be given to me. I have to go out there and work, regardless of who is in the room and who’s not.”