When Matt Eberflus was hired as Bears coach in January, he promised that all players would be afforded a clean slate to prove themselves to the new staff.
No one took advantage of that opportunity more than cornerback Kindle Vildor. After a disappointing 2021 season, the 2020 fifth-round pick performed well in offseason practices and training camp. He missed the first two preseason games with an injury, but returned to produce three tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one pass breakup in Saturday's finale in Cleveland.
"We don't look at last year," said Eberflus. "We certainly look at skill sets from last year, but other than that, hey, it's a clean slate.
"He's had a couple injuries during training camp, but he put his best foot forward the last preseason game. So he is where he is right now. And he's got to keep working. I think in our scheme, a lot of times those outside guys can play well because it's a vision defense, a vision break. [We] play some more zone, more than most people. I think he can have success there."
Good spot: Four of the seven receivers who made the Bears' initial 53-man roster have been sidelined with injuries: veterans Byron Pringle, N'Keal Harry and Tajae Sharpe and rookie third-round pick Velus Jones Jr.. But Eberflus doesn't seem concerned, even with the regular season opener just 12 days away.
"We feel good where we are, we really do," Eberflus said. "Obviously, it doesn't look good out there. We had some guys that were out. We only had three or four guys out there today [at practice], but we feel good where they are in terms of coming back and being available to us shortly. We're in a good spot."
Take a look at each player on the Bears' initial 53-man active roster for the 2022 season. (Players listed numerically) (As of Aug. 30, 2022)
Young guns: In constructing the 53-man roster, Eberflus conceded that the Bears took into account that they're just beginning to build a foundation with young players.
"You do look at it that way in some regards, but in other ways you've got to build the best football team you can this year," he said. "It's the coaches' job to develop the athletes and develop the players into our system and our style. We believe in teaching and we have a really good personnel department. They really covet the things the coaches do and we're in line that way. We're excited about that."
The Bears' initial 53-man roster includes 13 rookies—10 draft picks and three undrafted free agents.
Double threat: One of the undrafted rookies, Jake Tonges, has impressed the Bears while playing both fullback and tight end.
"I think he's done a good job to show us he can do both," Eberflus said. "That's a hard thing for a defensive coordinator, really: 'Hey, does this guy play tight end? Does he play on the ball? Does he play Y? Does he move? Does he get back into the fullback position and can he run leads?' That creates a whole other dynamic for the defensive coordinator. IIs he going to play 12? Is he going to play nickel? Is he going to play base? What's he going to do? That, to me, is a good thing."
Turning heads: Another undrafted rookie, linebacker Jack Sanborn, greatly improved his chances of earning a roster spot in the preseason opener against the Chiefs when he generated two takeaways with an interception and fumble recovery.
"When guys make plays, when they make plays in games and they're instinctual, you always take a look at those guys," Eberflus said. "He's good in the open field and making open-field tackles in special teams. So we're excited about where he is in his development too. [Linebackers coach] Dave Borgonzi's done a great job getting him in the position and letting him flourish in that spot."
Eberflus added that Sanborn, a Wisconsin product, impressed the Bears by showing "a lot of grit and a lot of toughness though the course of training camp."
Three's company: The third undrafted rookie to make the 53-man roster is Jaylon Jones, a cornerback from Mississippi. It's a bit of surprise that three undrafted rookies earned roster spots given that the Bears had a large draft class (11 picks).
"It just shows the hard work [the personnel department] put in with looking at these guys all the way through and then really pulling the trigger on draft day to get them and get the guys that we covet," Eberflus said. "They did a really good job with that. And for the coaches, too. The coaches are developing those guys. It works hand-in-hand to get those guys ready to play."
Getting better: Eberflus said that improving the roster is a yearlong process that the Bears are "always going to be obsessed with." With hundreds of players being released throughout the NFL as part of final cuts Tuesday, general manager Ryan Poles will have an opportunity to add depth and competition.
Veterans can be signed immediately, while players who were waived must be claimed by 11 a.m. (CT) Wednesday. The Bears are seventh in the claiming order, which is determined by inverse order of 2021 won/loss records (just like the draft).
"We're always going to look for guys that have the traits we're looking for, the long, speed, athletic, striking-type players that we want to have on our roster," Eberflus said. "We're always going to look to improve that."