LAKE FOREST – While the unit has always been consistent and near the top of the NFL, there has been plenty of change when it comes to the leadership of the Bears defense.
Vic Fangio was the coordinator in the NFC North championship season of 2018 then left to take the head coaching job with the Broncos. Chuck Pagano took over for 2019 and 2020 as the defense remained effective, but in the last year slipped outside the top ten in the NFL.
In 2021 there was another change in leadership as Sean Desai, who has been on the coaching staff under three head coaches since 2013, takes over the defense from Pagano. It’s a unit with proven producers, including a few looking to return to their elite level of play, with a few holes to fill before the September 12th opener against the Rams.
“I like where we’re at. I still think there are plenty of areas for improvement from a coaching perspective and a player perspective,” said Desai of the defense as they approach their second preseason game against the Bills on Saturday. “But we’re still in the middle of training camp right now. We’ve got….10-15 practices left of training camp so I’m happy with where we’re at to be in the middle of it right now.”
For Desai, the key is to return the Bears to where they were just a few years ago, when they were the best defense in the NFL, holding opponents off the scoreboard and forcing turnovers. In 2020, they took the ball away 18 times (T-25th in the NFL) while they were 14th in points and 11th in yardage allowed per game.
Emphasis on turnovers has been one of the keys for Desai during this first training camp, and he even created a “takeaway bucket” to encourage them during workouts and games. The Bears forced two turnovers during their preseason opening win over the Dolphins on August 14th.
“I’m just happy that the guys are consciously aware of it, that they’re trying to go attack the ball,” said Desai of the emphasis on forcing turnovers.
Strategy aside, the key for the new defensive coordinator to reach this group in 2021 and beyond is much more personal. Earning their trust as he adds wrinkles and adjustments to the defense will be key in returning the unit back towards the top of the NFL.
“To me, it’s about relationships,” said Desai. “You try to be authentic in how you talk to these guys and approach them and then you’ve got to stick to your word. As a leader, I’ve got to stick to my word and hopefully they feel that, and I think they’re starting to feel that and they know that when it’s business time, it’s business time.
“When there’s certain expectations and standards and everybody’s going to be held to those same standards. I think they appreciate that, and the job is to continue to keep growing it. We’re not there yet.”
He’s still go a little time in training camp and 17 regular season games to arrive at the place he wants the Bears’ defense to be.