Bears’ receiver corps under pressure now with Darnell Mooney out

Chicago Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool warms up before playing the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Atlanta.

Ever since this season began for the Bears, most of us have wondered which wide receiver would step up and be a consistent second option alongside Darnell Mooney.

Three months later, we’re still waiting.

Equanimeous St. Brown (14 catches), Dante Pettis (13), Byron Pringle (5), N’Keal Harry (4) and Velus Jones Jr. (3) have combined for a mere 39 receptions. Chase Claypool has snared seven passes in four games since arriving from Pittsburgh via trade.

Now that Mooney’s out for the season with an ankle injury, the pressure’s really on this group, starting Sunday against the Packers at Soldier Field.

“I think we’re gonna have to spread the ball around,” coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday before practice at Halas Hall. “Obviously, Mooney is a dynamic player. He’s had a good chemistry with Justin (Fields) and the rest of the quarterbacks. ...

“We’ve got to (move forward) by committee, using all of them the best way we can based on their skill sets.”

Of the remaining wideouts, only Claypool and Pringle have seasons with 40 or more catches. Claypool did it the last two years with the Steelers (62 and 59), while Pringle had 42 for the Chiefs last season.

The 6-foot-4 Claypool, who is getting more comfortable in Luke Getsy’s system, had two catches for 51 yards on five targets during a 31-10 loss to the Jets last Sunday. Pringle, who missed six games due to injury, made a great catch on his 4-yard TD in the second quarter.

Pringle scoffed a bit when asked if Mooney’s injury makes him hungrier.

“I’m always hungry,” he said. “You can look at that from last year. I’m always hungry. I’m just waiting on my number to be called.”

St. Brown has excelled as a run blocker, and Pettis (out Wednesday due to illness) has been a consistent contributor on special teams.

We haven’t seen much from Harry, who was injured during the preseason. He dressed in Weeks 7-9, then sat the last three weeks.

This would seem to be a great time to get a longer look at Jones, who has been a disappointment after being taken 71st overall by GM Ryan Poles in last April’s draft.

Jones has just three catches for 24 yards and five carries for 47 yards. He’s also returned 12 kicks (5 punts, 7 kickoffs), but lost two fumbles that played big parts in losses to the Giants and Commanders.

While Jones has shown improvement in practice, the staff has yet to put him on the field for more than 15 offensive plays in a game.

“It’s always about, ‘Hey, can you play fast?’” Eberflus said. “You do that by: I know my alignment, I know my assignment and, man, I can go rip it and go play. And I can (also) discern things on the fly.

“If we end up ... adjusting the play at the line of scrimmage, can you adjust? ... He’s getting better at it.”

While Jones is looking forward to increased playing time, he obviously feels bad for Mooney, who invited all of the receivers to his house earlier in the season for a study session.

“We ate good. It was, ‘MWAH!’ magnificent,” Jones said while smacking his lips. “It was a good time, enjoying one another, eating together.”

If given more consistent playing time, it’s fair to wonder if Jones can make a significant impact on the passing game. Blessed with rare high-end speed, he could easily pull away from defensive backs if Fields or Trevor Siemian can get him the ball in open space.

It’s tough to see that happening, however, if Jones is just thrown in for a random play or two.

“It’s definitely much smoother being in a lot of the time,” Jones said. “Like Mooney and those guys, they get adjusted to the game, get the feel for it, get in your ‘flow stage’ and everything slows down.

“When you’re just going out there and trying to make (one) play, everybody’s flying around and stuff. And that’s at every level -- high school, college and now.

“But for sure I’ll get adjusted.”

The coaches aren’t going to turn to Jones until he’s truly ready, however. Not only is it unfair to him, it’s also unfair to the other 10 guys on offense.

Tight end Cole Kmet -- not speaking specifically about Jones on Monday -- offered insight as to why that’s extremely important.

“The sport is taken for granted how violent it is,” Kmet said. “That’s why it’s important (that you) trust everybody out there. Just throwing somebody out there just to see how they’re going to do, that’s a scary thought for me and for other guys.”