With the Broncos’ imminent hiring of Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator, the poaching of the Bears’ defensive staff continues.
Denver hired Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio last Thursday as its head coach to replace Vance Joseph, and Fangio has already signed Bears OLB coach Brandon Staley to his staff. Donatell will be a bigger loss, given his work the past four years with a Bears secondary that had two All-Pro players last season in CB Kyle Fuller and S Eddie Jackson.
Donatell has worked on Fangio’s staffs for the previous eight years as his DB coach, and he interviewed for the Bears’ DC vacancy that went to Chuck Pagano. Before Fangio took the Bears’ DC job and brought Donatell with him, they spent four years with the 49ers (2011-14) in the same roles.
Donatell, who turns 62 next month, has seven previous years’ experience as an NFL defensive coordinator, including 2000-03 with the Packers and 2004-06 with the Falcons. While he will have the title of defensive coordinator in Denver, Fangio will be the defensive play-caller.
Donatell’s departure leaves Pagano with a significant gap to fill in the secondary, given the earlier departure of assistant DB coach Roy Anderson. The Bears are also reportedly moving on from ILB coach Glenn Pires.
But the Bears’ defensive vacancies are expected to attract a great deal of interest considering the team is loaded with young talent and finished No. 1 in the NFL in points and rushing yards allowed, takeaways and interceptions, lowest opponents’ passer (72.9) and three-and-out percentage (26.8).
Much of that talent resides in the secondary.
Jackson, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, and Fuller, a five-year veteran, had career years under Donatell, both also making the Pro Bowl for the first time. They combined for 13 interceptions, including seven by Fuller, who tied for the NFL lead. Jackson took back two of his picks for touchdowns and also scored a touchdown on a fumble return. Jackson has five defensive touchdowns in two seasons under Donatell, more than anyone in the NFL since the start of the 2015 season.
Fuller bounced back from missing the entire 2016 season with a knee injury with an NFL-best 43 passes defensed over the past two years. The Bears’ other starting corner, Prince Amukamara, also enjoyed a career year, matching his personal best with three interceptions and finishing fourth on the team with 66 tackles, the second-highest total of his seven-year career.
Nickel CB Bryce Callahan, who will be a coveted unrestricted free agent if he isn’t re-signed by the Bears, also played his best football in 2018. He matched his career best with two interceptions, while finishing 10th on the team in tackles with 45, even though he spent the final three games on injured reserve with a foot injury.
Barring any more defections, DL coach Jay Rodgers will be the Bears’ only returning position coach on defense. Rodgers came to the Bears in 2015, along with newly hired head coach John Fox and was retained after Fox was fired following the 2017 season. Rodgers has been instrumental in the development of Pro Bowl DE Akiem Hicks and NT Eddie Goldman, along with rookie DE Bilal Nichols, a fifth-round pick who started five of the final six games.