Bears' most improved players, punt/kick returners, undrafted free agents | Chalk Talk –

Bears Senior Writer
Wondering about a player, a past game or another issue involving the Bears? Senior writer Larry Mayer answers a variety of questions from fans on
Who would you say is the most improved player you’ve seen so far in training camp, an individual who has stepped up and performed better than you expected?
Robert P.

The first player who comes to my mind is cornerback Kindle Vildor. The previous regime, which selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft out of Georgia Southern, was very high on him entering last season. They looked at him as someone who could help replace veteran Kyle Fuller. Vildor, however, failed to live up to those expectations and struggled in 2021. So far in training camp, I’ve seen a different player. Vildor has taken a lot of reps with the No. 1 defense when Kyler Gordon moves inside to nickel and has displayed instincts and aggressiveness; he seems to be playing with more physicality than he has in the past. Here’s what coach Matt Eberflus recently said about the third-year pro: “I like his competitiveness, where he’s shown in this camp so far. He’s competing. He’s put a nice couple of thuds on some runners.” Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker has been impressed with Vildor as well, telling reporters: “He’s very great at his technique. He’s super serious, so when he’s in man-to-man, he owns his leverage, whether that’s inside or outside, whatever defense we’re playing, but he always owns his leverage and he’s getting better. He’s really locked in.”
I’m really interested to see our special teams units this preseason. What players have been returning kicks and punts this offseason?
Keith S.
Wheaton, Illinois

I agree that the return game will be one of the most intriguing areas to watch throughout the preseason. Three players who returned punts and kickoffs for the Bears are back this season. Khalil Herbert averaged 24.1 yards on 27 kickoff returns, while Dazz Newsome averaged 12.5 yards on six punt returns and Nsimba Webster averaged 3.3 yards on four punt returns. Free agent-acquisition Byron Pringle has also returned kicks in the NFL, averaging 26.6 yards with one touchdown on 37 kickoff returns the past three seasons with the Chiefs. The Bears added two explosive return specialists in the draft, choosing Tennessee receiver Velus Jones Jr. in the third round and Baylor running back Trestan Ebner in the sixth. Last season at Tennessee, Jones was named SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year after averaging 27.3 yards with one touchdown on 23 kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on 18 punt returns. Last year at Baylor, Ebner was voted Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and first-team All-Big 12 as a return specialist and all-purpose player after averaging 22.2 yards with one TD on 23 kickoff returns and 8.1 yards on 19 punt returns. Asked Tuesday about the most important quality he’s seeking in a return specialist, special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said the “No. 1 thing with returners is ball security. We need to make sure we catch the ball first, take care of the football. Obviously, we want to put it in the end zone, but our job at the end of the day is to take care of the football and make sure the offense has it if we don’t punch it in first.”
The Bears always sign several college free agents immediately after the draft. Have any of those players had an impact in Year 1?
Dave T.
Glastonbury, Connecticut

Since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970, I’d say that the undrafted free agent who made the biggest impact with the Bears as a rookie has been receiver Dennis McKinnon. Signed in 1983 out of Florida State, he appeared in all 16 games with four starts as a rookie, catching 20 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns. McKinnon ultimately played six of his seven NFL seasons with the Bears, recording 180 receptions for 2,840 yards and 21 TDs. Other top undrafted free agents signed by the Bears over the past 50 years or so include center Jay Hilgenberg, receiver Tom Waddle, cornerback Leslie Frazier, running back James Allen and tackle James “Big Cat” Williams. However, no member of that group made much of an impact as a rookie.
Chalk Talk features fan questions multiple times each week. Email your question to Larry.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses what accounts for the Bears’ reduction in penalties this preseason, how the defense will fare this season and the last time the Bears had an undefeated preseason.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses who he thinks will start the season opener at right guard, the departure of second-year receiver Dazz Newsome and the chances of backup quarterback Trevor Siemian getting first-team reps.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn’s chances of making the Bears’ 53-man roster where offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will coach from during games and the battle for the No. 2 receiver spot.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses who could be the Bears’ best fantasy football player, the most fun individual matchup to watch in training camp and if the Bears can put receiver N’Keal Harry on the PUP list.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses how rookie safety Elijah Hicks has performed in training camp, the player he’s most interested to watch practice in pads and how aggressive coach Matt Eberflus will be on fourth down.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses who stood out in the Bears’ first training camp practice, how much of a boost veteran offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield will provide and whether it’s better to have the NFL’s No. 1 offense or defense.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses the acquisition of receiver N’Keal Harry, the likelihood of defensive end Charles Snowden earning a roster spot and if players will be permitted to sign autographs during training camp.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses the Bears rookie who could make the biggest impact, an under-the-radar signing who could emerge as a regular contributor and the last time the Bears played four of their last five games at home.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses the players he’s most interested in watching in training camp, if Gale Sayers had a chance to score a seventh touchdown in his record-tying performance in 1965 and memorable Bears field goals.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discussed whether Cairo Santos is the most accurate kicker in Bears history, a player who will have a breakout season and if it’s been decided how much starters will play in preseason games.
Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses whether rookie Braxton Jones will be ready to start at left tackle in Week 1, how cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. has fared in practice and the passing of longtime Bears reporter John Mullin.
© Chicago Bears. All rights reserved.


Leave a Comment