Introductions were not necessary this offseason when the Bears' new defensive coordinator joined his players on the practice field for the first time.
Although he was promoted to the role in January, Sean Desai has been with the organization since 2013—long before any current member of the defense joined the Bears. The 38-year-old served as a defensive quality control coach for six seasons before being elevated to safeties coach in 2019.
Bears players who've been coached by Desai were thrilled to learn he had been elevated into the role following the retirement of Chuck Pagano.
"I was very excited," said safety Eddie Jackson. "He's been a guy behind the scenes for a very long time, even before I got here (in 2017). [He] was one of the guys who helped me the most learning the plays, learning the schemes. So, for him to get that type of promotion is huge and I feel like it's well deserved."
"I couldn't be more happy for a guy like Sean," added safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. "You see a guy like that and you understand that he knows the game of football. He just needed that opportunity."
Desai has been described by those who have worked with and for him as organized, prepared, intelligent and energetic.
"Sean knows strengths and weaknesses," said linebacker Danny Trevathan. "He watches a lot of film. He's a smart guy. He knows football. So, I think that's going to help put us in the best situation possible in making the right calls and understanding who's out there and knowing how the guys can make an impact play."
Gipson agrees that Desai will get the most out of a talented veteran defense that boasts Pro Bowlers at all three levels.
"With a guy like Sean, you'll see that everybody is going to be able to make plays, from the safeties to the corners to the linebackers to the D-line," Gipson said. "When you have a defense that's rich in talent, where you've got guys capable of changing the game on every level, having a guy like Sean is huge because you have a guy who can truly put every guy in position to make a game-changing play. Having him calling the plays and being at the helm, it's going to be an awesome opportunity for everybody on the defense."
“I think that Sean is one of the brighter young minds in the game … And with the talent that he has on defense, it’s going to be a beautiful thing to see.” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. on DC Sean Desai
The Bears are counting on Desai to help the unit revert to the form that it showed from 2015-18 under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and for a season-and-a-half under Pagano.
The defense ranked fourth in the NFL in points allowed (18.6 per game) and eighth in yards (324.1) in 2019. It continued to perform well last September and October before faltering throughout the second half of the season.
The unit allowed just nine touchdowns in the first six games of the year, helping the Bears open with a 5-1 record. In the final six regular-season contests, however, the defense permitted 21 TDs.
The decline was especially significant in two key areas: After ranking first in the NFL in both red-zone touchdown percentage and third-down efficiency over their first eight games, the Bears ranked 31st in both categories over their final eight contests.
"[Desai is] coming in and he's holding us to a standard: run to the ball, finish, be in your playbook, run through your keys, be on top of your keys, pursue," Jackson said. "Trying to hold everybody to that standard is just one of the biggest things right now and trying to get this thing back to where we were."
Based on his experience with Desai last year, Gipson is confident that the defense will excel under its new coordinator. The veteran safety didn't join the Bears until May and credits Desai with helping him get up to speed and having a productive season while starting all 16 games.
"When I signed late in the process after the draft last year, Sean was a guy who took me under his wing," Gipson said. "I was doing extra Zoom meetings with him from the time that I signed to all the way through training camp, just trying to get a grasp on the defense.
"I think that Sean is one of the brighter young minds in the game. To have him as my defensive coordinator, I definitely understand what he can bring to the table. And with the talent that he has on defense, it's going to be a beautiful thing to see."
Take a look at the 14 veteran free agents the Bears have signed in 2021 hitting the practice fields during the team's full-squad minicamp at Halas Hall.