Sean Desai is no stranger at Halas Hall. He’s been on the coaching staff longer than anyone on Matt Nagy’s current staff, going all the way back to 2013 under Marc Trestman.
But what will his defense look like? While we know he was heavily influenced by former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Desai has also made it clear that he has his own ideas and philosophies that he will implement. The 38-year-old will call the defense for the first time this season and the first few training camp practices have given us a glimpse at how the defensive coordinator operates.
Here are five things you should know, directly from Sean Desai:
1. There are 3 core values in the defense.
“There are some fundamental core things that we just believe in. We believe in tackling. We believe in running to the ball. We believe in taking the ball away. There’s a premium placed on those three things, and to play good defense you need all three of those. We’re going to try to be really good at those three things to start with, and then when the scheme comes, the scheme will come.”
It sounds simple, but every good defense excels in those three areas and every poor defense struggles in at least one of those areas.
2. Desai is open to input from his players.
“I’ve got an open-door policy, and the players know that. We said it in our first training camp meeting, and I jokingly tell them there’s a suggestion box right outside my door. They’re welcome to add suggestions to it, just like the coaches are. Doesn’t mean every suggestion is going to be taken, but every suggestion will be under consideration. And if it’s good, we’ve got no ego here. We’re going to do what’s good for everybody. It’s an 11-person unit, so whatever the suggestions are, we’re going to use those, and we’re going to roll that way.”
Desai provided that explanation after being asked about Robert Quinn, who admitted he had discussions with the coaching staff about how he can be better utilized within the defense this year.
3. The defense has a takeaway basket.
“We want to make sure that when we get a takeaway that everybody knows that we got one.”
The takeaway basket is a blue tub on the practice field that is kept nearby in case the defense creates a turnover. As part of the celebration, the player that snatched the ball dunks it into the tub.
4. A key emphasis: See the ball.
“The biggest thing is knowing where the ball is. That’s the biggest thing. Having vision on the ball. If you can’t see the ball, you can’t take the ball away. Very simply, they need to know. They need to see the ball from wherever it is, the snap, to the quarterback-running back exchange, to the quarterback dropping back at the top of the pocket to releasing it and then we’ll have a chance.”
After leading the league in takeaways with 36 in 2018, the Bears only had 19 takeaways in 2019 and 18 last season. While there’s always some luck when it comes to turnovers, most coaches believe you can tilt the luck your way by constantly emphasizing the need to see the ball and grabbing the ball.
“I told Roquan (Smith) today, during the stretch line, why don’t I go get a ball so you can just touch one? They just got to touch the ball,” Desai said. “So as many touches as you can get in practice on the ball, that’s going to translate.”
5. Desai is extremely organized.
“It’s just a personal leadership philosophy. I think you got to be organized. I think that reflects through your whole organization. “My current role, I’m responsible for the defense and the staff and the players and I got to make sure I provide the road map for that and they’ve got to feel that. And I think from a staff perspective and a player’s perspective, that they know real quickly when you’re not organized. And so that’s a big pet peeve of mine.”
There’s a reason why Desai has survived in Chicago through three different head coaches and risen from a quality control coach to safeties coach to defensive coordinator. Players rave about his coaching ability, coaches rave about his work ethic, and there’s no doubt his communication skills are impressive.
You can expect the defense to be well prepared and organized when they take the field against the Rams in Week 1. The only question remaining is how that prepare translates into results.