LAKE FOREST – There was one day this offseason when Darnell Mooney grew tired of complimenting Justin Fields.
“I was like ‘Aight, this is my last time complimenting you, but good ball,’” Mooney said. “But yeah, he’s been throwing the ball really well.”
That bodes well for the Bears.
The Bears’ top QB-WR connection spent time working out together in Atlanta, not far from where Fields grew up in Kennesaw, Georgia. They’re hoping the extra work pays off come September.
Way back in January, following a season-ending loss against the Vikings, Mooney said the work with Fields began immediately. He wasn’t kidding. Within weeks, Mooney was at Fields’ house near Atlanta and the two were working out at Georgia Tech’s practice facility or wherever else they could find an available field.
Fields worked with his personal QB coach, Quincy Avery, who is based in Atlanta. One day he even worked out alongside Colin Kaepernick, who also works with Avery.
All offseason work is valuable, but building in extra reps with his top receiver is huge. Mooney said he and Fields got together before they even had a playbook for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense.
“We were kind of just winging it and just doing what we could do, but [it was] very beneficial,” Mooney said. “Grew a lot though.”
Mooney, who enters his third NFL season in 2022, led the Bears with 81 receptions and 1,055 yards in 17 games last year. He found the end zone four times.
With an entirely new receiving corps around him, Mooney figures to be Fields’ top target again next season. Out are Allen Robinson, Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd. In are Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown and likely another receiver or two in next week’s draft.
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For Mooney, the focus all offseason has been on conditioning. He was particularly impressed with Rams’ receiver Cooper Kupp’s endurance during the Super Bowl. Kupp’s ability to play at his best on the final drive of the game inspired Mooney.
“That was his drive,” Mooney said. “In the end zone, he was dead tired, but you couldn’t see that he was tired at all catching the ball and going back to the huddle.”
This week during voluntary minicamp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Mooney and Fields showed flashes of that connection. Fields had a clear rapport with Mooney over some of the other receivers. Thursday’s practice, the final one of the week, was somewhat sloppy for the passing game in 7-on-7, but Fields connected with Mooney on a couple of nice passes.
As for the rusty start with some of Fields’ new receivers, chalk it up to a new playbook and April cobwebs.
“I would just say that each guy’s working through learning the system,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “When you’re learning a new system, you’re going to have mistakes, and mistakes are good. Mistakes are learning opportunities. You have to look at it that way at every position.”
It will be an ongoing process throughout the spring and into July and August. The offseason program moves next to rookie minicamp the weekend after the draft, May 6-8. Then organized team activities begin about a week later on May 16.
Attendance: The Bears had no unexpected absences Thursday. Quarterback Nick Foles, pass rusher Robert Quinn, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. and pass rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad were not present. Those five have not practiced at all this week.
Safety Dane Cruikshank, tight end Jesper Horsted and pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu were present but not participating.