LAKE FOREST — When the Bears defense stepped onto the field for the first possession last week in Detroit, second-year cornerback Kindle Vildor remained on the sideline with his helmet at his side.
Vildor, 23, had started the Bears’ first 10 games at cornerback. But the coaching staff, it seems, had seen enough to make a move. Instead, 26-year-old former first-round draft pick Artie Burns started against Detroit.
“I talked to Kindle right after the game, too, and he understood it,” Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said Thursday. “He knows that he’s still an important part of our defense that we’re going to need. He’s been great, his approach.”
Burns, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, made his first NFL start since 2019, when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had drafted him 25th overall in 2016 out of Miami. The Bears brought him in as a free agent in 2020 before he suffered the season-ending injury in training camp.
Burns had played in games this season, but exclusively on special teams. The Lions game was the first time he saw a snap on defense.
“It was definitely a moment that I remember, just coming off the injury and not playing for so long and being out there, it felt real good to be back out there,” Burns said.
There wasn’t much time to think about it, though, because the Lions went after Burns right from the get-go. On the Lions’ first offensive possession, receiver Josh Reynolds beat Burns down the right side. Quarterback Jared Goff connected with Reynolds for a 39-yard touchdown.
Burns thought he did a good job of settling in after that initial mistake. He knew an attack was coming because most teams the Bears face tend to throw away from cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Vildor fell victim to that plenty in his 10 starts.
“That’s our job,” Burns said. “We get paid to cover. They try to go away from Jaylon. So you come in the game knowing what to expect.”
Through two-and-a-half seasons, Johnson has established that he can play corner in the NFL. Ever since Kyle Fuller packed his bags for Denver over the offseason, the Bears have had a big question mark opposite Johnson. The hope was that Vildor, a 2020 fifth-round draft pick from Georgia Southern, could be an answer.
His benching said otherwise. Vildor didn’t play a single snap on defense on Thanksgiving. Desai said he would’ve liked to get Vildor out there more.
“The plan was to play him more from,” Desai said. “It kind of got away the way the game kind of flowed and everything. That sometimes happens.”
The Bears had only 49 snaps on defense. That’s a low number for a full game. Burns was on the field for all 49.
“We wanted [Vildor] to improve in some areas, and he knows those [areas],” Desai said. “We wanted a little bit of a changeup on our defense with a different style of play, because you’ve got a different type of player that plays the same defense, but in little different ways.”
One benching is certainly not the end of a player’s career. Vildor is going to be a part of the Bears’ future. He’s under contract for two more seasons after 2021. The Bears wouldn’t have started him in 10 games if they didn’t see potential in him.
But when a player keeps getting beat, sometimes a change is necessary. As a cornerback, the mistakes are going to be a lot more noticeable than the routine plays. That’s the nature of the position.
Burns said there’s no hard feelings or added competition between he and Vildor. Burns was benched in 2018 with the Steelers, so he knows exactly what Vildor is feeling right now.
“I learned from that because I got sat for a vet,” Burns said. “We always can help each other get better.”