It was his first public appearance and in it, Eagles Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai late last week wanted to make sure he sent out a declarative statement about his intentions for 2023, and that there would be no mistaking the message.
"My overall defensive philosophy, and I've talked to our players and our coaches, it's something that we want to build together," said Desai, energy rising, capturing the attention of the media in the auditorium of the NovaCare Complex. "I don't think it's something that I can impart on somebody and say, this is the all-inclusive way to play defense. The one thing that we've agreed on and we've talked about as a staff and a group is there's a certain mentality that we want to reflect. I really believe the city's teams got to reflect the city, and we've got some grit, we've got some toughness, we want to be able to impose our will. We're not going to take really anything from anybody.
"We want to make sure that people feel us. We want to be able to run. We want to be able to hit, and we want to play smart. I think that's a reflection of who we are obviously as a obviously Philadelphia Eagles defense, a reflection of really the history of the Philadelphia Eagles defense, and a reflection of this city, and that's what we want to be. We want to be an encompassing part of that. One thing I told the team, was it maybe at the end of meetings on Thursday, was I asked them if they knew with the word "palpable" meant. You guys know? Yeah, right? It's a feeling in you. That's what we want. We want to be able to be felt, whether you're watching us on TV, whether you're in the stadium, and obviously on the field. We want to make sure people feel this Philadelphia Eagles defense."
Gritty. Tough. Physical. Imposing will. Flowing to the football and – you can just see it, right? – having fun playing defense. You're watching the Eagles play defense and the "oomph" jumps off the field, off the television screen.
You feel it.
Desai, a coach in the NFL since 2013 first with the Bears for nine seasons including 2021 when he was the defensive coordinator and last season in Seattle as the associate head coach-defense of a suffocating, take-the-ball-away group, was hired on February 28 by the Eagles and since then he's been digging in. Learning all the Eagles personnel. Preparing for free agency and then the NFL Draft. Teaching the defense in bite-size gulps during this offseason program. He is a disciple of Vic Fangio, with other influences like John Fox, Chuck Pagano, and Mel Tucker mixed in because the NFL is all about keeping an open mind and incorporating ideas into the personnel that you have. It doesn't work if you don't have the Jimmies and the Joes, no matter how good are the X's and the O's.
The Eagles have both, and that's what makes this combination of Desai and Philadelphia so exciting. What he did in Chicago was noteworthy: Desai oversaw a group that led the league in sacks per pass attempt (10.3 pct.) while totaling the fourth-most sacks (48) overall. The unit featured second-team Associated Press All-Pro and Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn, who led the conference with a career-high and franchise-record 18.5 sacks. Chicago also finished third in passing defense (191.6 ypg) and sixth in total defense (316.7 ypg) playing most of the season without stars Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson, all of whom battled injuries.
What will the defense look like this season? Desai is going to mix things up – he wants to give different looks in coverage, present different fronts, and attack offensive weaknesses – and the Eagles have the Jimmies and the Joes to execute Desai's vision. The goal on every play: Impact the quarterback. This defense has loaded up along the line of scrimmage, has multiple pass rushers, veteran and proven standouts at cornerback, and some new pieces to fit into slot at linebacker and the safety positions.
We really won't know what Desai plans are until the regular season starts and then, well, it's an every-down thing. Create havoc.
"I think the most important thing is giving an appearance and a look that can cover up a lot of different things you do with your defense and your deployment of your defense and your players. So that goes into this disguise element that we try to do, right, because really we all know, you've got to impact the quarterback," Desai said. "Our philosophy is we've got to impact them physically and mentally. One of them is not going to be good enough. We need both, and we both on every single play, and so that's a function of the looks that we give."
Last season's defense garnered a franchise-record 70 quarterback sacks and ranked among the best in the NFL in most major categories and then came within one half of one game of having an all-time super season. A lot has changed since then. A lot has stayed the same. The goal here is to take it a step further, and that's why Desai is at the NovaCare Complex until late into the night, working on the scheme, where to put his players, how to get them in the right position to make plays.
He has an infectious energy about him, is known as a meticulous teacher and coach who thrives in his attention to detail. It is a right fit for a coach who was in Philadelphia with Temple University in the late 2000s. He knows the culture. He knows the expectations. He's super-charged and ready for the fun ahead.
"As the leader of this defense, I've got to make sure I'm on my game, and it's an every-minute, every-day type of thing," Desai said. "I've got to make sure I've got enough foresight to anticipate what's coming up ahead and making sure I give our guys a plan and a process to achieve our goals."