There are certainly some key areas where the Bears defense needs to improve. But recently-appointed coordinator Sean Desai doesn't see the need for a complete overhaul.
"I'm not a big car guy, so my analogies may not be great, but this is like a tune up," Desai said Monday during a video call with reporters. "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."
The defense peaked under coordinator Vic Fangio in 2018, helping the Bears win the NFC North with a 12-4 record. The unit led the NFL in points per game (17.7) and ranked third in yards per game (299.7).
"There was some regression, and we're going to overcome that," Desai said. "But we're going to do it in a positive way and we're going to do it where the players are going to be able to shine through that defense. So I think we'll build some depth and we'll continue with our tough, physical mindset of play and do that over a 16- to 20-week season."
It's no secret the defense needs to produce more impact plays. After registering a league-leading 36 takeaways and 50 sacks in 2018, the Bears generated 19 takeaways and 32 sacks in 2019 and 18 takeaways and 35 sacks in 2020.
"We're going to continue to have a huge emphasis on that," Desai said. "There will be some strategies and things like that we do from a meeting and practice standpoint to really emphasize that, really get our players to embrace that. And then, the other end of that is to execute. When it's certain guys' chances to go make some plays, they're going to know when they can go take those shots and have those opportunities, and then it's going to be my job as a play-caller to make sure they've got those opportunities. And I think we're going to be able to try to do that and really optimize all of our players' abilities.
"We've got a lot of talent on this defense. It's the ability to optimize it and then, ultimately, a lot of times sacks come as a result of coverage, and takeaways come as a result of pressure. So it's going to be all of us working together and buying into that concept and understanding our roles within the defense."
“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.” New Bears DC Sean Desai
Nine of the defense's 11 starters remain under contract through at least 2021. They include defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols, outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson and safety Eddie Jackson.
Players who are due to become unrestricted free agents in March include safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. and linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban.
"I think we've got a lot of tools in place here," Desai said. "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."
That defense will presumably remain a 3-4 unit as it has been since Fangio arrived in 2016 as part of head coach John Fox's original staff.
"We're going to continue to harp on the type of brand of player that we want, and we're going to be physical," Desai said. "We're going to be tough. And we're going to value speed and those things, 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."
The coaching staff for next season is set. Take a look at the Bears' new and returning coaches heading into 2021.