(670 The Score) Bears receiver Darnell Mooney was never going to take the bait.
After OTAs on Wednesday afternoon, Mooney was asked about the perceived Insta-Beef that Rams’ All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey started with Bears fans, on Mooney’s behalf, back in May. The second-year pro Mooney flashed a quick smile, paused for a split second and then launched into the type of answer that must have made the Bears’ PR team swell with pride.
“There’s a lot of defensive players this year on our schedule,” Mooney said. “There’s a lot of strong defensive backs, man. It’s going to be a good year. A lot of fun this year, I’m looking forward to playing.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t a surprising answer – Mooney’s been all business since he arrived at Halas Hall in 2020. That's one of the many reasons why he has endeared himself to the coaching staff so quickly. Though he finished his rookie campaign with relatively modest numbers (61 catches for 631 yards, 10.3 yards per catch, four touchdowns), Mooney emerged as the team’s clear-cut WR2, ending his season with an 11-catch, 93-yard performance that coach Matt Nagy is still thinking about.
“The thing that stood out to me was his durability, up until that last game there when he got hurt,” Nagy said Wednesday. “He got hurt with extra effort in that previous game, so you love that about him. He’s really tough.
“And we just kept giving him more and more and more. Now it’s our job to make sure that, as we go into this season, we make sure that he gets a lot of opportunities. He’s a threat in this offense and what he’s doing out here right now in OTAs, he’s literally gotten even better. But he has that inner drive. It’s that DNA thing that not everybody has, but he has it and we’re lucky.”
How Mooney’s rookie year went really depends on whom you ask. During his exit interview, the team told Mooney that he had exceeded its expectations, but he was quick to disagree, feeling – at least in part – that he didn’t achieve everything he wanted to. Experience is always a benefit, and heading into his second season, Mooney said his only goal is to become "more of an asset to the team," leaving the details up to Nagy’s "creative mind."
“Sometimes before the play happens, I can see how it plays out in my head,” Mooney said. “Seeing the defender's body language and understanding the defensive look … it’s extremely beneficial to have that experience under my belt.”
The ability to see an entire offensive concept, as opposed to just a single route, is a habit Nagy wants all of his pass catchers trying to get into on a more consistent basis. It’s something that reminds Nagy of Terrell Owens, who was coached by some of the same people whom Nagy would later cut his teeth with as an assistant in Philadelphia. Mooney showed some ability to do that last year, but as Nagy admitted, it’s a little bit different now that he and everyone else around him knows he’s getting the ball. And for what it’s worth, if his handling of Ramsey’s digital prods – and the questions from headline-hungry media members that followed – is any indication, foresight won’t be an issue for the budding young star Mooney.
“I’m just looking to win every game that we have,” Mooney replied when asked if there was any specific game -- such as Week 1 against the Rams -- that he had circled on his calendar. “I’m looking forward to winning a Super Bowl this year.”
Cam Ellis is a writer for 670 The Score and Audacy Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KingsleyEllis.