The Bears built a better bucket, then broke it.
First-year coordinator Sean Desai created the “takeaway bucket” as a not-so-subtle incentive for his defenders to try to force fumbles and interceptions during training camp. When they take the ball away during team drills, Desai sprints a simple blue laundry bucket on caster wheels out into the middle of the field. His players shoot — or dunk — the ball into the bucket while their teammates cheer.
With each celebration, Desai sends a message. Under Vic Fangio, the Bears had a league-high 36 takeaways in 2018. Chuck Pagano’s players totaled 37, combined, the next two seasons. Desai was hired to do better.
“The big thing for us is we want to take the ball away,” Desai said. “We believe in tackling. We believe in running to the ball. We believe in taking the ball away.”
Coach Matt Nagy has never shied away from a good gimmick, anyway.
“You see these college teams — the Miami Hurricanes, they got the big gold chain necklace,” Nagy said. “Ours is a takeaway bucket. The guys have fun with it. It spices it up.”
Earlier last week, the Bears tried to upgrade the bucket. They attached a small basketball backboard and rim over a black trash can and mounted both on a dolly for portability.
It wasn’t as durable.
“Our coach just had us take a couple practice dunks,” outside linebacker Trevis Gipson said. “And by the end of the practice dunks, it was broke.”
Alec Ogletree might be partly to blame. In his first practice as a Bear on Thursday, the inside linebacker intercepted a pass and bricked a dunk off the back of the rum.
“Everything is on tape,” Nagy said. “So we can crush him when we’re watching tape in the meeting.”
The Bears led the NFL in takeaways in 2018 but finished tied for 22nd in 2019 and tied for 25th last year. Their defensive dominance dipped appropriately — and, without field position, so did their -offense’s ability to score.
“[The bucket] gives us an incentive,” defensive lineman Bilal Nichols said. “It gives us energy. Because when you get that turnover, you want to run to that blue bucket because you want to show everybody what you can do. It’s just something to keep us going, keep us excited.
“It’s hard to get a turnover in the NFL. They don’t come easy. So when you get them, you’ve got to celebrate them.”
Desai is usually the one leading the party, having rolled the bucket onto the field himself.
“He’s comin’ and he said he’s going to match our energy,” rookie cornerback Thomas Graham said. “Having a coach that’s energetic, just for us, when we make a play, is even better because it makes you want to keep making plays.”
The blue bucket returned Saturday. Perhaps the Bears will trick out a new one for their first preseason game Saturday against the Dolphins at Soldier Field. Regardless of which one they use, though, the Bears’ message is the same: take the ball away.
“Right now, we’re going to keep it simple with the blue,” Gipson said. “But come game time or preseason games or whenever, I have no clue what we’ll pull out. Honestly.”