The Chicago Bears placed cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor on injured reserve Friday, ending their seasons.
The moves leave the Bears without two of their top three cornerbacks for the final three games, with only rookie Kyler Gordon left as a usual starter.
The team activated running back Khalil Herbert from IR, setting up a return from a four-game absence because of a hip injury Saturday against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Johnson suffered a rib injury, and he also has a broken bone in his left hand, over which he wore a club while practicing this week. Vildor has been dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out the last two games.
On Thursday, the Bears listed Johnson as questionable to play, and coach Matt Eberflus said, “It’s just really more about his hand and if he feels he’s functional with it. We’re just working through that.”
Instead, the 2020 second-round pick, one of the Bears’ best young defensive players, ends his season with 35 tackles, seven passes defended, one tackle for a loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 11 games. Vildor, also in his third season, played in 11 games with 34 tackles, two tackles for a loss, five passes defended and an interception.
Their absences will be another blow to a Bears secondary that already lost veteran safety Eddie Jackson to a left foot injury.
Last week, the Bears allowed Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown to make nine catches for 181 yards and DeVonta Smith to make five catches for 126 yards. Without Johnson, they now have to take on Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who ranks third in the NFL with 99 catches for 1,299 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s really crafty,” Johnson said of Diggs. “He’s a really good route-runner. He creates a lot of separation with his releases. He’s very dynamic with his route-running. And it also helps having a quarterback (Josh Allen) who can throw the ball a million yards. And their chemistry is building and building since they’ve been there.”
Undrafted rookies Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell could see more time on defense with Johnson and Vildor done. The Bears also moved defensive backs Harrison Hand and Breon Borders to the active roster.
Jones has played the majority of defensive snaps the last two games and had 13 tackles. Blackwell, a key special teamer, played 51 defensive snaps in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers and had five tackles.
While Blackwell’s contributions on defense have been limited, special teams coordinator Richard Hightower on Wednesday raved about what Blackwell has given his units.
“The thing about him is he’s hungry and he still wants more,” Hightower said. “To get a guy like that where we got him (off waivers), without working with him in the offseason, I’m excited to work with him in the offseason. And quite frankly, I think he should be in the discussion for a Pro Bowl-type player. It’s not being talked about. It’s not being said. But he is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Every coordinator comes up and talks to me about how good of a player Josh Blackwell is and where did you find him.”