The Bears defense is stocked with seasoned veterans. But an unheralded second-year pro made the biggest impact in Wednesday's minicamp practice.
Cornerback Kindle Vildor, a 2020 fifth-round draft pick from Georgia Southern, registered two interceptions in team drills, including one he alertly snared after it deflected off a receiver.
Vildor is clearly benefitting from the experience he's gaining on the practice field this spring. The 5-11, 190-pounder didn't have that opportunity last year as a rookie because all offseason workouts and preseason games were cancelled due to COVID-19.
"He's definitely flashing," said coach Matt Nagy. "Every play you get, every rep you get, you get a little bit more experience, a little bit more confidence and you can play faster. The stuff that goes on on the offensive side of the ball slows down for you and your reactionary skills are better. And what I think you see is you start seeing a lot more of what we saw on tape at Georgia Southern."
Nagy has also noticed Vildor's increased comfort level manifest itself in another way.
"He's becoming more vocal, too," said the Bears coach. "These rookies come in last year and they don't meet a lot of guys and they're coming in and he came in backing up some guys. Now, he's a little bit more vocal, and you're seeing him let his personality show. That's a big plus for us."
Vildor played sparingly as a rookie last season, lining up on just 13 percent of the defensive snaps and registering 17 tackles and one pass breakup. This summer he's expected to compete for an expanded role at cornerback and nickel back in training camp and the preseason.
Robinson focusing on football
Although he's been unable to reach an agreement on a long-term extension with the Bears, receiver Allen Robinson II is participating in this week's mandatory minicamp and said Wednesday that he intends to report to training camp on time.
The Bears placed a franchise tag on Robinson in March, guaranteeing him 120 percent of his 2020 salary. The two sides have until July 15 to agree on an extension, but Robinson isn't dwelling on his contract situation.
"Whether something gets done or not, it's just something that's not fully in my control," Robinson said. "Things happen, things change. But it's not something that I can concern myself with too much. I'm just trying to focus on the things that I can, which is being a better player, being a better teammate, helping us go out here and win more games."
Nagy isn't surprised that Robinson's focus is on football.
"It just goes to show who he is, being able to show up here in mandatory camp," Nagy said. "It shows what kind of teammate that he is and what the game means to him. We know that. We understand that. We appreciate that from him. And I think that if you would ask his teammates and you would ask his coaches and you would ask the rest of our organization—support staff, personnel department and Ryan Pace—we would all agree that that doesn't surprise us that he's here. He's just a really good person that cares a lot about winning, and we appreciate that."
Bears to regain home-field advantage
Nagy was excited about Wednesday's announcement that Bears fans will be welcomed back to Soldier Field at full capacity for the 2021 season.
"It's awesome news for us, for our fans and for our city," Nagy said. "I mean, when they get going, and I think back to in particular for me, selfishly, in 2018 when we were in that playoff game against the Eagles, it just gives you chills what that atmosphere was like, and how crazy it gets and the passion that they have."
There was a noticeable difference last season when no fans were permitted to attend Bears home games due to COVID-19.
"Now, when you have that and everybody from a year off of not being in the stands, now they get to come back, are you kidding me?" Nagy said. "It doesn't get any better than that. The players, the coaches, we all feed off of that, and it's such an advantage when you're at home for the defense. They love that.
"Last year when … your own players are cheering like a high school game on the sideline, it's quiet, it's just different. Now to have our fans back, that's beautiful news and I know our fans are going to be pumped and excited. And now, it's our job to go out there and put a great product out there so that we can make them cheer and get excited and use them as an advantage."
Check out the action from Halas Hall as the Bears hit the practice fields during their full-squad minicamp.