“Hey,” Mooney said. “Can you have somebody come shoot the JUGS (passing machine) for me?”
Medlin responded to the unique request by telling Mooney that the machine was already on the team’s truck.
“Tony,” Mooney insisted. “Can you get it?”
Medlin complied, and Mooney returned to an empty Soldier Field, catching ball after ball after ball. Reporters, working on their game stories and columns, snapped a few photos and posted them on social media. That’s how teammate Equanimeous St. Brown found out about Mooney’s practice session, but TE Cole Kmet actually saw it happening live when he stepped on the field to take a few pics.
“Ah, there’s Darnell catching balls,” Kmet thought. “Didn’t surprise me in the least.”
Mooney, swarmed by reporters after Wednesday’s practice, was asked if he’s feeling any better after having a few days to reflect.
“Still a little frustrated,” he said. “Just not happy about my performance at all. I had the opportunities, you know. Had the chances to make some type of play and I just didn’t be me.”
Much is expected out of Mooney this season.
And perhaps too much, considering his size (5-foot-11, 173 pounds) and draft status (fifth round).
As a rookie, Mooney thrived as the second or third option and finished with 61 catches for 631 yards and 4 TDs. Last season, he opened even more eyes by producing four 120-yard games and finishing with 81 catches for 1,055 yards and 4 TDs.
During the off-season, Mooney and QB Justin Fields worked to develop chemistry. It has yet to materialize on game day, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s because:
•Both are getting used to a new offense under Luke Getsy and ...
•Mooney has a bigger target on his back as the de facto No. 1 WR.
“They both work their tails off, right?” Getsy said Thursday. “We’ve got to create more opportunities for those guys. Darnell’s a big part of what we do, and if we’re gonna go where we want to go he’s gotta be a part of it. I know that.”
To be fair, the wideouts have done a solid job of paving the way for the run game, which ranks second with 186.7 yards per game.
“We ask them to do so many different splits and alignments and assignments,” Getsy said. “They’ve been rock stars.”
Mooney has just 4 catches for 27 yards after three games. He dropped a ball on a WR screen late in the second quarter on first-and-10. Mooney wasn’t making excuses, but did say that a defender obscured his vision for a split second.
“I’ve just got to focus on it when it gets back in my vision,” he said.
A bummed-out Mooney didn’t say anything upon returning to the huddle, but admitted he needs to make sure teammates don’t notice him moping.
“My body language has gotten a lot worse this year,” Mooney said. “I’ve got a lot of guys that look at me and look at my body language. They feed off that. I’ve been learning about that a lot this week.”
“A lot of people are asking me, ‘Yo, are you OK?’” Mooney said. “Internally I’m fine. It’s just my body language.”
When it’s pointed out that he has a smile that will light up a room, Mooney laughed and said: “Everybody loves my smile. So I’ve got to smile.”
Mooney and Kmet believe things will eventually begin to click in the passing game, perhaps as soon as Sunday when the Bears (2-1) play at the Giants (2-1). They believe it’s a process, one that everyone wants to happen RIGHT AWAY. But that’s not always the way it works in the NFL when a raw quarterback like Fields is learning a new system.
“It’s going to be a process,” Mooney said. “We have time to get the things together. ... I just want to win. So whatever I can do to help us win.
“Obviously there was a frustration last game because I wasn’t able to help my team and be a playmaker that I can be. Other than that, it’s just something you’ve got to be patient with it. You have to be patient, but you have to be impatient with what’s going on as well.
“So you have to continue to keep working, continue to be hungry and just be eager for what could happen and what’s gonna happen. Not wait on the moment.
“I don’t think I’m defined by my yards. I don’t think I’m defined by touchdowns. I think I’m defined by the player I am. I’m fine.”
• • •
Bears’ leading pass catchers among WRs so far:
Equanimeous St. Brown: 4 catches, 77 yards • 19.3-yard average • 1 touchdown
Darnell Mooney: 4 catches, 27 yards • 6.8-yard average • 0 touchdowns
Byron Pringle: 2 catches, 33 yards • 16.5-yard average • 0 touchdowns
Dante Pettis: 1 catch, 51 yards • 51-yard average • 1 touchdown
Bears’ leaders after 3 weeks in 2021:
Darnell Mooney: 12 catches, 101 yards • 8.4-yard average • 0 touchdowns
Allen Robinson: 10 catches, 86 yards • 8.6-yard average • 1 touchdown
Marquise Goodwin: 5 catches, 55 yards • 11-yard average • 0 touchdowns