Matt Nagy didn't hesitate when asked what he wants to see from the Bears defense during training camp practices this summer.
"A ton of takeaways and turnovers," said the Bears coach. "A ton of them. Everywhere you look, I want that ball coming out. I want fumbles, interceptions, tipped passes. I mean, when they go to bed at night, just think about intercepting the football, stripping that football. Be, like, crazy about it. Everywhere you go."
Nagy hopes the defense reverts to the form it displayed in 2018 when the Bears led the NFL with 36 takeaways. It's no coincidence that that team won the NFC North title with a 12-4 record. The correlation between the two categories was just as strong the last two years, when the Bears finished 8-8 in back-to-back seasons while producing 19 takeaways in 2019 and 18 in 2020.
First-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai no doubt will place a major emphasis on ball drills in training camp.
"We have to get takeaways this year, and I think we've got a lot of guys that are ready for it," Nagy said. "I know Sean, coach Desai, is really excited to do some emphasis drills with that. We went through that a few years ago, and you could see what that can do. That can really help out. But we as coaches, we've got to talk about it. You can't just go out and expect it to happen. So that's what I know Sean has a plan for."
On the rise: The Bears are high on Kindle Vildor, a 2020 fifth-round pick from Georgia Southern who is expected to compete for a starting cornerback job opposite fellow second-year pro Jaylon Johnson.
As a rookie last season, Vildor appeared in all 16 games with one start, compiling 17 tackles and one pass breakup. All but one of the 135 snaps Vildor played on defense in 2020 came in the final four games when Johnson was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
"That was kind of the bright side of that, is that [Vildor] got a lot of valuable play time down the stretch," said general manager Ryan Pace. "He can definitely push for the starting job. He has that kind of ability. He looked really good this offseason.
"When I think about these young, emerging players on our team, he's definitely one of them. He's such a pro, the way he prepares and the way he goes about his daily plan. He's a talented player that we were really excited to get in that area of the draft, and the sky's the limit for him."
Competitive situation: To win a starting job, Vildor will have to outplay veteran free agent acquisition Desmond Trufant. The 6-foot, 190-pounder signed with the Bears in March after spending his first eight NFL seasons with the Falcons (2013-19) and Lions (2020).
Trufant has started all 103 NFL games he's played, registering 349 tackles, 14 interceptions, 83 pass breakups, 10 tackles-for-loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He's looking to get back on track this year after being limited to a career-low six games in his first and only season with the Lions in 2020.
"With Trufant, we've studied him a lot over the years from Atlanta to Detroit," Pace said. "I think, unfortunately, last year there was some soft tissue stuff that came up with hamstrings, so we're getting ahead of that right now with our staff, trying to stay ahead of the curve on that. But Trufant, we still feel has the stickiness to play man coverage, the suddenness, all those things. It'll be good to see it all play out this camp, and there will be good competition there."
Hardy was selected by the Falcons in the fifth round of the 2015 draft out of East Carolina. The 5-10, 192-pounder appeared in 73 games with six starts over five seasons with Atlanta, catching 95 passes for 946 yards and nine touchdowns.
Johnson entered the NFL in 2019 with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent from Toledo. The 6-foot, 192-pounder also has spent time with the Jaguars but has yet to appear in an NFL regular-season game.
McClain and Farris both signed with the Bears this offseason.
Get an exclusive look at Bears players arriving at Halas Hall on Tuesday for the start of Dr Pepper Zero Sugar Training Camp.