First-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai is in his ninth season on the Bears’ coaching staff — under coordinators Mel Tucker, Vic Fangio and Chuck Pagano. | Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire, AP
The Bears’ first-year defensive coordinator appears well-armed for the battle of wits against Sean McVay and the Rams in his first test as a play-caller. “I think that’s a strength of mine,” he said.
Bears first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai is looking forward to playing chess Sunday night.
“I’ve got some good practice at chess because I play with my kids,” he said. “So that’s a benefit for me.”
Desai doesn’t give an inch when he plays with his kids — and sometimes loses. Now the degree-of-difficulty gets ramped up exponentially when he matches wits with Sean McVay in the Bears’ season opener against the Rams on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Desai has been a part of game day for eight years as a quality control coach and safeties coach. But this first time in the hot seat.
“That’s always a part of the game, right?” said Desai, who will work from the coaches box instead of on the field. “Whether you’re a position coach and you’re helping the coordinator and the play-caller seeing what you’re seeing in the game. Now as a play-caller, you’ve got to continually stay on top of it. And I think that’s a strength of mine. We’re going to test it out on game day, but I think that’s a strength of mine to be able to see the game up top.”
Of the unproven commodities at Halas Hall this offseason, the buildup for Desai has exceeded all of them except for quarterback Justin Fields. Whatever it is he’s selling, his players are buying.
“He’s a wizard,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said.
“This guy is super smart,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “Sometimes he thinks light years head. So when he first brings an idea to you, you say, ‘Sean, there’s no way that’s gonna work.’ But when he breaks it down to you, you understand his mind and get how he thinks [and] you say, ‘Man, this guy is so smart, that the game of football slows down.’ You say, ‘OK, five minutes ago, no way I would have put that together. But now he makes sense.’”
Trevathan and Gipson are among several key defensive players to provide a glowing endorsement of Desai’s influence on the defense. “I met with him [last] Thursday,” safety Eddie Jackson said, “just to get the playbook breakdown of what we’re running, what’s the game plan [against the Rams]; and just to see his mind of what he’s expecting — how he’s drawing things … it’s pretty cool.”
“Just how he’s playing guys,” Jackson said. “Letting guys get after it. I’ll just leave it at that.”
But game day will tell the tale — not only in the players’ execution of the game plan, but Desai’s ability to think on his feet, make quick decisions and adjustments and try to stay a step ahead of McVay as a play caller.
“We’ll see,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “We’ve all had to have our first time doing it. For Sean, that’s going to be an unknown until we get through this year. But that’s the fun part. That’s the challenge. I believe in Sean. I think he’s going to do a great job.
“Is every game going to be perfect? No, it’s not. But the thing I think is great about Sean is he’s very resilient. He believes in what he’s teaching. He has confidence in himself. He’s not cocky. But he believes in what he’s teaching. That comes from the mentors he leaved from — like Vic [Fangio], Chuck Pagano and several others. That’s real. And he’s going to have to use that and put his own spin on game day when the bullets are flying.”
Desai spent five seasons watching Fangio call plays on game day. He sounded eager to build on that experience more than mimic it.
“You spend a lot of time with the guy, I sure hope some of the stuff that he’s done well, I can incorporate into my own play as we go,” Desai said. “And we’ll do the best we can. But I’m going to play to my strengths as best we can.”