The retirement of defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano following the Chicago Bears’ 2020 season led to the promotion of Sean Desai after he spent two seasons as the team’s safeties coach. He had been a quality control assistant for Chicago from 2013-18.
Now 37, Desai began his coaching career in 2006 as a defensive and special teams coach for Temple. He left after the 2010 season to be an assistant member of the Miami Hurricanes’ front office, a role that lasted a lone year. Desai finished his collegiate coaching tenure in 2020 as the running backs coach and special teams coordinator for Boston College.
Al Golden was Temple’s coach when Desai was first given a chance, and as many readers may recall, Golden’s first stint as a defensive boss came under Al Groh at Virginia. Which leads us to …
The coaching tree from which Desai is rooted has a storied history of the 3-4 alignment, dating back into the late 1980s when Groh was an assistant under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants. He spent time on the same staff as Bill Belichick and later followed the coach to Cleveland.
The Bears already ran a 3-4 base alignment under Pagano, so there’s little more than nuances we should expect to change under Desai. Each coach likes to put his only twist on things, and there will be some tweaks but not wholesale changes.
On-field coaching tendencies could dramatically change: Whether he has the fortitude to be attacking vs. conservative in situational playcalling … how he’ll respond defensively to playing with a lead or from behind … preferences to bring pressure and from where on the defense, etc. Expect more of those details to trickle out as the offseason unfolds, but there’s nothing like real-world experience, and Desai has none in this role.
Desai has a doctorate in educational administration from Temple, and it will be interesting to see how he puts his intelligence to use when it comes to teaching this defense. It’s too early to tell if we’ll have a more traditional offseason program in place in the spring and summer months, so there could be an opportunity for Desai’s background to develop creative ways to teach his players in the event we have another offseason like the last one.
While we already know the offense could/should look much different due to free agency, on the defensive side of the ball all of the star players are locked up for 2021. Safeties Deon Bush and Tashaun Gipson are set to become free agents, and nickel corner Buster Skrine probably is a cap casualty. The Bears could lose reserve players in LB Barkevious Mingo and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris (shoulder) finished the year on IR but stands to defect for a more lucrative opportunity in 2021 free agency.
Sure, there’s always a chance for a significant surprise, but it’s more likely the team will seek to restructure some of the heaviest deals to provide some cap relief as the team enters the offseason just over $10.57 million in the hole, and we don’t even know yet if the upcoming cap will decrease, although it seems likely to happen. Being that much over a projected $192 million cap may appear burdensome, but 10 teams have a greater projected deficit at this time. That said, where it hampers the Bears is being able to lure in a big-name free agent on this side of the ball, even more so considering the costly holes that will need to be addressed on offense.
Fantasy football takeaway
It’s tough to see the Bears finishing in 20th place for most fantasy points generated in 2020 as anything but a serious disappointment. Sadly, it’s actually a three-spot upgrade from the first year under Pagano.
The ’20 defense recorded 35 sacks, which was good for 17th, and Chicago was a mutually generic T-15 for fumble recoveries. Tied multi-way with 10 interceptions meant only four teams tallied fewer picks, and none of them made the playoffs.
Seven teams didn’t produce a defensive touchdown in 2020, and Chicago’s lone score on this side of the ball tied with eight other teams to represent the bottom half of the league in this category. The Bears added a safety and a special teams score for complementary points beyond the universal fantasy stat columns on defense.
This team will fare so much better in fantasy if it can increase its sack total. Sure, an actual sack doesn’t tell the whole tale, and getting pressure on a quarterback is oftentimes more indicative of a defenses potential — bringing heat tends to lead to turnovers, and smart QBs just turtle up or throw it away to avoid a mistake. The Bears pressured quarterbacks 21.8 percent of the time last year, which was the 12th-lowest rate. Only four teams blitzed at a lower frequency in 2020.
The beautiful thing about defensive success is there are multiple ways to do it, but teams rarely prosper without regularly harassing quarterbacks. Whether Desai chooses to create pressure via scheming or rely on his personnel to accentuate Khalil Mack, something has to improve over the Pagano tenure. Otherwise, the Bears will once again be an overrated fantasy asset on draft day.