It’s often said the NFL is a copycat league. What one team or unit accomplishes in any one phase routinely becomes a blueprint for general managers and coaches across the landscape. (That, of course, is provided such schemes can be replicated and applied on a wide basis.) The NFL is also a league of adaptability. When the standard offense is centered around a three-receiver set, including a playmaker in the slot, the standard defense has to respond with at least three competent cornerbacks. Not possessing a quality defensive starter in the slot might as well be a death sentence. It can’t be done.
The Bears’ active secondary has no such issues of versatility. Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson form a talented safety duo. Kyle Fuller and young protege Jaylon Johnson have the right mix on the boundary. Even Buster Skrine, the slot cornerback of this specific Chicago defense, and once a weak link in Cleveland and New York, has shown he belongs. But every great defense has someone waiting in the wings to take over on a whim. That someone in this case is Kindle Vildor — an aggressive, nimble, and proficient cornerback tailor-made for the Bears’ defensive mission.
To get a better sense of where Vildor is coming from, I spoke with Underdog Dynasty’s Brian Stone. We got down to the bottom of his place with Georgia Southern, his trademark moment, and how the Bears are equipped to let him morph into a competitive star.
1. Many have praised Vildor’s aggressive demeanor. In fact, it’s been held up as his preeminent quality as a football player, especially against top competition such as Clemson. How did the Eagles put his tenacity to its best use, and what are examples of this mentality paying off for him?
Brian Stone: 2018 was Vildor’s best season, as he intercepted four passes (good for second-best in the Sun Belt that year) and defended 12, which ranked first in the conference that season, including a fantastic performance against a Clemson team that went on to win the National Championship. Coming off of some rough years that proceeded it, Vildor and the Georgia Southern secondary truly turned a corner that year and helped the Eagles go from 2-10 in 2017 to a 10-3 record and a bowl game victory in 2018. Vildor’s coverage skills were a big part of that turnaround. His ball-tracking ability and his aggressiveness made him one of the best defensive backs in the conference.
2019 was a different story, as the Eagles’ safety play left a lot to be desired and frequently left every corner fending for themselves with no help over the top. Vildor was extremely aggressive for the second year in a row, but where that aggressiveness was a strength just a year before, it led to a lot of big plays given up as the safeties were simply not in position to help in coverage. I think the Bears’ safety duo of Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson is going to allow Vildor to play to his strengths while also having the appropriate amount of help behind him that should allow him to shine.
2. A three-year starter, Vildor became one of the more decorated players in Georgia Southern history by the time his collegiate career came to a close. How would you describe the progression of his career?
BS: 2016 and 2017 were some rough years for Eagle fans, as the secondary was widely considered a major weak link on those teams. In those two years, Georgia Southern compiled a record of 7-17. I think it says a lot about Vildor that he didn’t let his early years as a freshman and sophomore under a poor head coach deter him from eventually becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the Sun Belt. Plenty of guys could have been discouraged and coasted considering the amount of criticism the team received from 2016-2017 but Kindle didn’t. He, along with Monquavion Brinson, helped the team form one of the more outstanding cornerback duos in the conference, if not the best overall.
3. What are Vildor’s strengths and weaknesses? Where is he ahead of the curve, and where will he have to grow up to make it as a professional?
BS: I think the strength that comes to mind is his ability in a variety of coverages. Vildor’s a fantastic zone corner who also possesses the requisite man coverage skills you would want to see out of a slot cornerback in the NFL. He’s extremely quick and twitchy, allowing him to change direction at will and keep up with smaller receivers.
As far as weaknesses go, I think two of them go hand-in-hand:
One is Vildor’s size. He was forced to play on the outside during much of his time at Georgia Southern as he was among the taller Eagle cornerbacks. He measured in at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, which may make it difficult to cover bigger receivers or potentially tight ends who may line up in the slot. A great deal of receivers who gave Georgia Southern trouble were notably Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty) and Omar Bayless (Arkansas State), and each of them measure in at 6-foot-3 or taller. I think Vildor can excel when lined up against a guy closer to his stature. The more sizable receivers Georgia Southern played were able to take advantage of the lack of overall size in the secondary, Vildor included, on multiple occasions.
The other weakness that come to mind are Vildor’s tackling. This is something that can obviously be improved with proper technique and coaching, but the Eagles’ linebackers and safeties were mostly tasked with clean up on the off-chance Vildor allowed a completion. He often left them alone on an island to their devices and that won’t suffice at the next level. He needs to improve on that and be a more willing tackler if he wants to carve out a full-time NFL role.
4. On paper, Vildor faces a tall order to make an impact as a rookie. How do you see him factoring into this equation? Is he gifted enough to make a name for himself as an eventual starter? In all likelihood, he’ll be the slot corner: How did he handle such responsibilities in college?
BS: Vildor can be molded into whatever Chicago wants him to be as a football player. I think the Bears will want to keep him off of the outside and let him get his bearings (excuse the pun) covering slot type wide receivers as that is the chief use of his skill set. It’s where he made his career as a college player, and where he’ll made or broken in the NFL.
The best thing I can say about Vildor is that he works hard and is always willing to compete. If the Bears ask him to play a role like special teams early on, he will embrace it. He played special teams early on in his time at Georgia Southern. He won’t be lost on the third phase. As long as Chicago uses him properly and plays to his strengths defensively, I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up in nickel packages more often than not once Chuck Pagano and company feel he’s ready.
5. As Vildor moves on for bigger pastures, what’s one perhaps untold or unknown story that epitomizes his time with Georgia Southern?
BS: What many do not realize is that Kindle was playing last season with a severe ankle injury. Despite that, he never gave up and rarely missed a snap. With Georgia Southern being a Sun Belt team and only playing maybe two or three Power 5 teams per season, there were a lot of questions about his level of competition. Vildor went out in the Senior Bowl, picked off Shea Patterson in limited duty, and made a name for himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if that performance, in addition to his college resume, is what put his name on their radar. I think what the Bears will enjoy most is his scrappiness, while also having a guy who keeps his nose clean and competes for a starting spot every day. It can’t get any simpler than that.
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