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Saturday, December 10, 2022

‘Locked In’: As He Chases The 1,000-Yard Season, Chicago Bears Receiver Darnell Mooney Is Setting A Tone And Forming A Special Relationship With Justin Fields

'Locked In': As He Chases The 1,000-Yard Season, Chicago Bears Receiver Darnell Mooney Is Setting A Tone And Forming A Special Relationship With Justin Fields

Shortly after receiving his first NFL paycheck last year, Darnell Mooney darted to Google, eagerly dropped $1,700 and bought one thing he wanted more than anything else. It was, in essence, a gift to itself and provided a rush of energy immediately.

That JUGS machine is now sitting in an open space in Mooney’s house. And almost every night – after practice in the Hallas Hall, after team meetings, after dinner – he puts himself by the stairway that leads to his bedroom and gets back to work.

Hit! Shock!

Hit! Shock!

Hit! Shock!

The sound of footballs coming out of the machine and sticking to Mooney’s hands echoes throughout the house.

Mooney’s mixed German shepherd, Kai, does not have the ability to operate a JUGS machine. So it’s his personal chef, Kirk Swaby, who usually drives the wheel. Mooney throws on some music, maybe pops on television and works on his craft.

“That’s just chilling me,” he said. “But I’m really off. Always.”

The JUGS machine and that regular routine are emblematic of Mooney’s wiring with the 24-year-old Chicago Bears receiver, who hasn’t let go of a day in which he isn’t pushing himself to squeeze the most.

Throughout her life, Mooney has always recognized and cherished opportunity. And here now, in his second NFL season, playing for passionate fans as a budding receiver and one of the league’s most tradition-rich franchises, Mooney is buoyed by his inherent desire to take full advantage of this career start. Inspired.

It was in high school, shortly after her father Larry died of leukemia, that Mooney realized that her ambitious spark had turned into a hell. Something within that loss, he said, sharpened both his attitude and his ability to appreciate his gifts. His campaign, by extension, naturally strengthened.

“I just felt a boost,” Mooney said. “It’s sad that the worst thing in your life has to happen for you to gain energy or motivation. But I can honestly say that without it I don’t know where I would have been.”

‘There is a balance’

With three games left this season, Mooney has 57 catches and 803 yards. That coveted milestone for NFL receivers — 1,000 yards — is still within reach. Mooney is aware of his opportunity to chase that feat, attempting to become the 13th player in team history and the 12th wide receiver to join the 1,000-yard fraternity.

“It’s a compliment that’s the eye of all recipients,” he said. “So of course I’m trying to get there.”

Still, that’s hardly the driving force behind Mooney’s inspiration. After Monday night’s loss, the Bears’ 10th of the season and a loss that left them out of playoff contention, Mooney acknowledged that the final three games still made a lot of sense, especially when it came to rookie quarterback Justin Fields. related to their growing relationship with ,

“Justin just came here,” Mooney said. “He’s a rookie quarterback. He’s going to be here for a while. Hopefully I’ll be here for a while too. So hopefully I can just build on it and get game-time repetition (with him) so that we can pick up those things.”

Highly self-critical by nature, Mooney has also learned how to keep that quality from suffocating. Mooney understands that his ascent will involve stumbling blocks. According to Pro Football Reference, in the Bears’ first 14 games, he has eight drop passes.

“When you struggle you can go crazy about things,” he said. “But then you quickly understand that you are learning from it. That you can change it. There is a balance between being hard on yourself as well as being patient with yourself.”

After one of his most productive pursuits this season, Mooney found himself predictably agitated. Certainly, many in the outside world were noticing his five catches for 121 yards in Week 11 against the Baltimore Ravens, including his nifty 60-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. But Mooney looked at the final stat sheet and zeroed in on the number of passes coming his way: 16.

This meant that he and the Bears’ offense did not take full advantage of at least 11 opportunities, especially in a game the troubled Bears lost 16–13 in the final minute.

Also, once Mooney began investigating game videos, he quickly identified some of the plays that should have been touchdowns on his mind. There was a deep cross on the right side of the field that was incomplete due to miscommunication with Andy Dalton on how the Ravens were playing the defensive back.

There was another pass along the Bears sideline on which Mooney hung on with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, not quick enough with his cut, stumbled and got only one hand on the ball.

“Definitely a touchdown,” he said.

They gnawed Mooney.

nothing in the way

Quickly, though, Mooney turned his excitement into focus, dialing himself up for a quick turnaround for the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions. Even those who have come to understand and respect Mooney’s serious and purposeful demeanor were stunned.

David Montgomery, himself a quiet Type A perfectionist, had to run back to ask Mooney if everything was okay.

“He came up to me and was like, ‘Yo, Mooney. You’re not talking to anyone today?’ Mooney said. “I was like, ‘Brother, I’m off now.’ And he said, ‘I can understand that you are locked in. But you still have to talk.’ I look forward to talking to you when we go out or come in for practice.’ He and I feed each other. So I get it. I didn’t argue with him. I was like, ‘Okay, I got you.'”

By the time of the game at Ford Field, Mooney was both ready and eager, breaking the Lions for five catches for 123 yards in a 16–14 Bears victory.

“I’ve never seen a man distracted from his job,” said Bears offensive coordinator Bill Ledger. “The guy is focused on his work and being a great player. For me it’s really impressive for a young player. Because we all have things happening outside this building in our lives that can get in the way – whether it’s your work or sometimes life happens to you. But I never saw anything stand in the way of Darnell or let anything get in the way of him doing his job and being the best he can be. ,

‘Yo! Nice route!’

The science of route running can often be more simple than sophisticated. Take Mooney’s 12-yard catch to convert to third and -3 in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals three weeks ago. There was nothing complicated about his release. But the way Mooney leapt calmly out with his left foot, then back into the middle on a sharp oblique ball against cornerback Byron Murphy Jr., was beautiful.

So much so that as Mooney returned to shore, Alan Robinson waited with admiration.

Bears receivers coach Mike Fury said: “A-Rob (amped up) is talking about ‘I saw that move! It was cool. You learned that from me!’ ,

Robinson wasn’t the only one impressed. Murphy, in desperation after the catch, quickly found Mooney as well.

“He came to me at the next break,” Mooney said. “We’re going back to huddle and he’s going to huddle with us. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He was like, ‘Yo! Nice road!

Yep, it was a fairly regular game that came late in the middle of a wayward season with another Bears loss. But moments like these can lead to greater achievement. And personally, Mooney was quite satisfied with the way the drama was performed.

“It goes back to training camp when I was talking about pacing myself and learning my pace,” he said. “I knew I could hit the corner fast from the inside. But if I go on a three-step slant it can still be a competitive catch. So there I just gave him that quick move. He’s on it.” Kata. I stopped. And he has to stop when I stop. Now he’s always a step back. I understand that. So I go now.”

Added Fury: “We just talk about Darnell’s growth and development at 8,000 mph and not out of control. Right there, he was patient. He understood the coverage. He understood leverage. And he us Takes down first.”

Even with his increased concentration on the accuracy of his routes, Mooney understands the importance of improvisation, especially with a quarterback as slippery and creative as the field. To that end, the duo’s signing moment was by far a 16-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes in Pittsburgh on the “Monday Night Football” stage in early November.

From the slot, Mooney ran a hitch route to the 5-yard line. But when Fields was pressured and forced to empty his left side pocket, Mooney cautiously broke with him, trailing Steelers cornerback Arthur Moulette and spinning back to the left side of the end zone. Fields saw everything he needed and hit the bull’s eye, fired a dart face-mask high to Mooney and gave the Bears a 27-26 lead.

On the Bears sideline, Fury was delighted.

“As for Darnell, he sees ‘1’ coming out of pocket and all of a sudden it’s, ‘Here I go. That was the route concept. But here’s what’s open.’

“It’s all experience. You can’t really emulate those things in practice. You have to feel it in games. I think that’s where their game really starts to rise. … Fun to watch now It’s going to be a lot of fun watching you hit the road.”

Fields was praised for that delivery that night and in the clutch the following week. But Mooney’s control of the body, his effortless catch and the handicap after a touchdown on a photographer were just as impressive.

From both players, the whole sequence seemed so smooth and – to the Bears – so unfamiliar.

It wasn’t talked about enough,” Furay said. “Because it sounds easy. But that’s when you know there’s chemistry. … Nobody talks about it because it’s like, ‘That’s how it should go.’ It’s pretty neat.”

‘It’s a special connection’

Perhaps no one at Halas Hall stands to benefit more from Mooney’s continued ascent than Fields, who, given his football intelligence and genuine drive, developed an early choice for the young receiver.

“They’re both wired the same way,” said Bears coach Matt Nagy.

Fields and Mooney continue to use that connection to accelerate their development together, regularly staying in after practice for additional on-field repetitions and dialing in on the details of plays that require work. Is.

“Whatever concept or route he has on a certain play,” Fields said, “we’re just talking it through and making sure he’s running at the right depth and getting the right angle out of the break.” going. Stuff like this.”

Fields likes the infectious quality of Mooney’s passion.

“You can’t really ask him for more that he doesn’t already,” Fields said. “He’s always ready to get extra work. He’s constantly watching movies. From his style of work you know how much he loves sports and how great he wants to be. That’s what I love about him. He Really inspired me to be a better player and a better partner.”

Added Nagy: “It’s a special relationship. And it’s a connection to those two people, the younger they are, the harder it will be to stop on the road. It’s great to see two young people who believe in each other.”

Mooney insists that this belief should grow stronger over time. Fields, who became Mooney’s fourth quarterback in his 20th NFL game in Week 3, hopes the Bears’ quarterback position should stabilize. And Mooney believes he can deliver credibility from the core he received for years to come.

But even after entering the league as a fifth-round draft pick and the 24th receiver selected in 2020, Mooney has a long way to go in celebrating where his career journey has taken him. Because in his mind the top of the mountain is still miles away.

There is so much work left.

“I think of it as an angry mindset,” Mooney said. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be. And I’m not playing the way I want to play. Yet. So in my mind, I imagine how I want to play in Year 5 or Year 6 And I channel that mindset.”

Every day offers a new opportunity for growth.

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