The Bears will look to rebound Sunday against a familiar face.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio spent four years building the Bears' defense, first under John Fox and continuing under Matt Nagy. His work turned the longtime defensive coordinator into a popular candidate for head-coaching positions, finally landing him in Denver.
In only his second game, Fangio will face an offense that knows what to expect from him. Offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. spent four seasons facing off against Fangio's schemes on the practice field, and he knows what he'll be up against on Sunday.
"A lot of stuff," said Leno, dragging out each word. "I'm talking about so many different looks. So many different coverages for those guys in the back end. A lot of different fronts, people in different spots. You've just got to be ready for everything."
Players and staff alike are well aware that familiarity will go both ways.
"One of the things I'll say, he knows the guys," said safety Eddie Jackson. "He knows the type of players we have here going up against our offense in practices and things like that. And also the type of guys we have on defense, he knows our strengths and also our defenses. It's going to be a formidable one, a tough one."
Even with a lot on the line for both teams, Bears players were generally complimentary of their former coordinator, known league-wide for his serious demeanor and plain gray sweatshirts. In practices last season, however, Fangio's competitiveness could bring new sides of his personality to light.
"If we throw an interception or if there was a fumble in practice," said Nagy, "he'd run down there and jump up in the air and land awkwardly and think he looked cool, but he really didn't. And then we'd get it on video. There was one time where he took the ball, and they spiked it on us. They had a pick-six, and he grabbed the ball, and he did a ba-boom and spiked the ball on us. It was on video. And the first thing he did was ran into the video department and told them to delete that."
Nagy said that he was able to overrule his coordinator and keep the footage to show the team later in the year.
Beyond the competition of practices, Fangio provided a steady hand for Nagy, 20 years his junior.
"He was a guy who has so much experience that he can hang his hat on," said Nagy. "And he's been successful in a lot of different places. So for me coming in as a younger coach and a younger head coach at that, being able to rely on him for situational football and just kind of say, ‘Hey, how would you look at this formation or this personnel grouping? How would you attack it?’ But really more so than anything, it was just trusting and believing the advice that he gave."
Kyle Fuller is the only defensive starter who played for the team before Fangio showed up in 2015. Fuller was coming off a rookie season in which he'd earned a starting spot. He remembers his first impression of the new defensive coordinator.
"Kinda still what I'd say about him now: straight forward, focused, goes about his business," said Fuller.
Fangio publicly called out Fuller in 2016, but the two later became golfing buddies. Fuller, meanwhile, transformed himself into one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks; he was named first-team All-Pro last year after leading the league with seven interceptions during Fangio’s final year as coordinator.
"Coach I respected," said Fuller. "Someone who you feel like you can have a relationship with on and off the field."