We got our first extended look at the Bears’ new defensive coordinator this week, as the team introduced Sean Desai via Zoom press conference earlier in the week. The conference call represented an opportunity for Desai to give his first public comments since being hired as Chicago’s new DC in January.
One common thread throughout Desai’s commentary was his connection to the past. And specifically, being a link to the highly touted 2018 defense. I’ve highlighted some of Desai’s most intriguing quotes below and tossed in some additional commentary.
Make It Clear: “This Is Going To Be Sean Desai’s Defense”
Let’s be clear: just because the Bears hired a Vic Fangio disciple doesn’t mean they’ll immediately go back into 2018 form. Can re-visiting some of those principles and schemes put them back on the path to get there? Sure. But it would be unfair to expect it goes on like a light switch. Even still … Desai let it be known that he’ll be running his defense. Not Fangio’s. Or anyone else’s.
I sat next to him, so I was able to reflect on every game, within the game, and after the game of why certain things happened, why he called that. Now, does that mean I’m going to do it the same way? No. Would he want me to do it the same way? No … right? This is going to be Sean Desai’s defense.
The 2018 defense was the best defense in 2018, and our goal is to be the best defense in 2021. I think that’s what our players are going to embrace and understand. And that’s what we want to do. We don’t want to look in the rear-view mirror in terms of what could’ve and should’ve been. We want to look forward and really embrace that as a challenge to be the best defense in the league next year.
This is an important distinction to make by Desai, and I’m glad he’s bold enough to make it at the outset. Because while there might be a pull to harken back on the old days, the time to evolve is now. Having that time next to Fangio helped mold him. But being a Fangio clone won’t allow him (or the defense) to grow into what it needs to be. Looking back to the past for tomorrow’s answers isn’t as helpful as one might otherwise think.
There’s an excellent quote in Star Wars: The Last Jedi where Master Yoda tells Luke Skywalker: “We are what they grow beyond. That is the burden of all masters.” And if Fangio is into Star Wars lore, he might pass that quote onto Desai as a piece of wisdom, advising his pupil to grow beyond what he was in Chicago.
So, What Does Sean Desai’s Defense Look Like Anyway?
There’s no need for an extended introduction here, as Desai sums up what he wants his defense to look like:
“We’re going to be physical, we’re going to be tough, we’re going to value speed, and brains, and smarts. All those things are going to be important as we evaluate guys, and we’re going to find the roles that fit these guys’ skill sets. I think that’s really important. That’s a thing I learned from all those coordinators, and I think Vic was really masterful at that, making sure guys were in positions that suited them. So we’re going to continue that emphasis as well.”
As far as I’m concerned, it’s good news that Desai values physical, tough, smart players. The Bears need a mix of size, strength, speed, and football IQ to get this defense back into tip-top shape.
On the other hand, Desai didn’t threaten to bite off anyone’s kneecaps. What gives, new guy?
You Don’t Need to Be a Car Guy to Get This Metaphor
One thing I’ll miss about Chuck Pagano is that he was quite quotable. Pagano was a seasoned coaching vet who’s seen so much in the game. And because of the experiences of his football life, could spin a tale or two. I’m holding out hope that Desai can hold his own behind the mic. And for what it’s worth, drawing this comparison piqued my interest:
“I’m not a big car guy, so my analogies may not be great. But this is like a tune-up. We’re going to refine some things, and we’re going to make sure our players are playing to their strengths on a consistent basis, and they’re going to buy into the system and the whys and the hows of why we’re doing certain things. But we’ve got a good defense. We’ve got really good players here.”
In other words, Desai likes the ride he is inheriting. But rather than putting it through an overhaul, Desai plans on making some tweaks to increase performance. A touch of paint here. Maybe upgrade the speaker system. New tires wouldn’t be the worst thing, now that I’m really thinking about it.
If anyone would know what a defense needing an overhaul looks like, it would be Desai. Remember, Desai was on the Marc Trestman 2014 staff that preceded the arrivals of Fangio and John Fox. In other words, Desai has first-hand knowledge of what a defense in need of a tear-down and rebuild looks like. And through that lens, Desai knows this isn’t one of those situations. That’s reassuring.
With that in mind, Desai is going to give his new ride a good look and see how and why things need to be tweaked. After that, he’ll go about fixing them to his liking. Because that’s what someone smart does when inheriting something — whether it’s a car or a defense that’s ranked in the top-10 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric in each of the last two seasons.
A Hint Toward the Future?
The Bears have obvious needs on offense. And because of that, I don’t expect the team to invest heavily — whether it be via free agency or the draft — on the defensive side of the ball. But because Desai said this, I have doubts regarding my previous stance (emphasis mine):
“I think we’ve got a lot of tools in place here. We’ve got a lot of guys that want to be here, a lot of guys that want to play defense here, and I think it’s an attractive destination for anybody that wants to come play defense here.”
Chicago is a great place to play defense. I know it. So do you. And so does everyone around football. Getting an opportunity to play alongside Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Roquan Smith, Eddie Jackson, and others would be an absolute treat. With that being a given, I can’t get past the segment of the sentence above that is in bold. Is this a recruitment pitch? Or does Desai have an inkling as to what could be coming down the line.
Again, the Bears’ needs on offense should be the top offseason priority. But you can’t simply ignore the defense. Chicago could use an upgrade at slot cornerback, depth at inside linebacker, a rotational edge defender, and safety help. I’m not sure how they’ll use their assets, but the Bears’ pitch to defensive players is easier to make than one to their offensive counterparts.
For more from Desai, you’ll want to check out the video below: