Not lengthy after receiving his first NFL paycheck final 12 months, Darnell Mooney darted to Google, eagerly dropped $1,700 and bought the one factor he needed as a lot as anything. It was, in essence, a present to himself and offered an prompt vitality rush.
That JUGS machine now sits in an open house in Mooney’s house. And nearly each evening — after follow at Halas Hall, after staff conferences, after dinner — he positions himself close to the stairwell that results in his bed room and will get again to work.
The sound of footballs launching from the machine and sticking into Mooney’s arms echoes via the home.
Mooney’s combined German shepherd, Kai, doesn’t fairly have the dexterity to run the JUGS machine. So it’s his private chef, Kirk Swaby, who usually mans the wheel. Mooney throws on some music, possibly pops on the tv and works on his craft.
“That’s me just chilling,” he mentioned. “But I’m really locked in. Always.”
The JUGS machine and that common routine are symbols of Mooney’s wiring with the 24-year-old Chicago Bears receiver decided to not let a day go by wherein he isn’t pushing to squeeze probably the most out of himself.
Throughout his life, Mooney all the time has acknowledged and cherished alternative. And right here now, in his second NFL season, as a budding receiver enjoying for passionate followers and one of many league’s most tradition-rich franchises, Mooney stays fueled by his inherent need to take full benefit of this profession opening.
It was in highschool, not lengthy after his father, Larry, died of leukemia, that Mooney felt his formidable spark develop into an inferno. Something inside that loss, he mentioned, sharpened each his perspective and talent to understand his presents. His drive, by extension, strengthened naturally.
“I just felt a boost,” Mooney mentioned. “It’s tragic that the worst thing in your life has to happen for you to gain energy or motivation. But I can honestly say that without that, I don’t know where I’d be.”
‘There’s a stability’
With three video games left this season, Mooney has 57 catches and 803 yards. That coveted milestone for NFL receivers — 1,000 yards — continues to be inside attain. Mooney is conscious of his alternative to chase that achievement, making an attempt to develop into the thirteenth participant and twelfth extensive receiver in staff historical past to hitch the 1,000-yard fraternity.
“That’s an accolade all receivers eye up,” he mentioned. “So of course I’m trying to get there.”
Still, that’s hardly the driving drive behind Mooney’s motivation. After Monday evening’s loss, the Bears’ tenth of the season and a defeat that eradicated them from playoff rivalry, Mooney acknowledged there was nonetheless loads of that means left within the last three video games, notably because it pertains to his rising reference to rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
“Justin just got here,” Mooney mentioned. “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 off that and get game-time repetition (with him) so we can pick up on those things.”
Intensely self-critical by nature, Mooney additionally has realized the right way to maintain that high quality from turning into suffocating. Mooney understands his climb will embody stumbles. Over the Bears’ first 14 video games, in response to Pro Football Reference, he has eight dropped passes.
“You can be mad about things when you struggle,” he mentioned. “But then you quickly understand that you’re learning from it. That you can change it. There’s a balance to being hard on yourself but being patient with yourself as well.”
After one among his most efficient outings this season, Mooney discovered himself predictably agitated. Sure, many people within the exterior world have been being attentive to his 5 catches for 121 yards in Week 11 towards the Baltimore Ravens, together with his nifty 60-yard landing reception within the third quarter. But Mooney noticed the ultimate stat sheet and zeroed in on the variety of passes thrown his manner: 16.
That meant he and the Bears offense didn’t take full benefit of at the very least 11 alternatives, notably bothersome in a sport the Bears misplaced 16-13 within the last minute.
Plus, as soon as Mooney started scrutinizing the sport video, he shortly recognized a handful of performs that, in his thoughts, ought to have been touchdowns. There was a deep cross towards the appropriate aspect of the sphere that wound up incomplete due to a miscommunication with Andy Dalton on how the Ravens defensive again was enjoying.
There was one other cross alongside the Bears sideline on which Mooney received hung up with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, wasn’t sharp sufficient together with his minimize, stumbled and solely received one hand on the ball.
“Definitely a touchdown,” he mentioned.
Those misses gnawed at Mooney.
Nothing in the best way
Quickly, although, Mooney transformed his aggravation into focus, dialing himself in for the short turnaround for the staff’s Thanksgiving Day sport towards the Detroit Lions. Even those that have come to know and respect Mooney’s critical and purposeful demeanor have been shocked.
Running again David Montgomery, himself a quiet, Type A perfectionist, needed to ask Mooney whether or not all the things was OK.
“He came to me and was like, ‘Yo, Mooney. You not talking to anybody today?’ ” Mooney mentioned. “I was like, ‘Bro, I’m just locked in.’ And he said, ‘I can understand you’re locked in. But you still have to talk. I look forward to talking to you when we go out to practice or come in.’ He and I feed off each other. So I understood. I didn’t argue with him. I was like, ‘All right, I got you.’”
By sport time at Ford Field, Mooney was each ready and keen, shredding the Lions for 5 catches for 123 yards in a 16-14 Bears win.
“I’ve never seen the guy get distracted from his job,” Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor mentioned. “The guy is focused on his job and being a great player. To me it’s really impressive for a young player. Because all of us in life have these things happening outside this building that can get in the way — whether it’s of your doing or sometimes life happens to you. But I’ve never witnessed anything get in Darnell’s way or him let anything get in his way of doing his job and being the best he can be.”
‘Yo! Good route!’
The science of route operating typically will be extra easy than refined. Take Mooney’s 12-yard catch to transform third-and-3 within the fourth quarter towards the Arizona Cardinals three weeks in the past. There wasn’t something advanced about his launch. But the way wherein Mooney calmly jabbed exterior together with his left foot, then broke again to the center on a fast slant towards cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. was stunning.
So a lot in order that as quickly as Mooney returned to the sideline, Allen Robinson was awaiting with reward.
Said Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey: “A-Rob is (amped up) talking about ‘I saw that move! That was pretty good. You learned that from me!’ ”
Robinson wasn’t the one one impressed. Murphy, who jumped in frustration after the catch, shortly discovered Mooney too.
“He came up to me at the next break,” Mooney mentioned. “We’re walking back to the huddle and he’s walking to our huddle with us. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He was like, ‘Yo! Good route!”
Yes, that was a seemingly routine play late in one other Bears loss in the midst of a wayward season. But these sorts of moments can develop into steppingstones to larger achievement. And privately, Mooney took heightened satisfaction in the best way that play was made.
“It goes all the way back to training camp when I was talking about pacing myself and learning my speed,” he mentioned. “I knew I could beat the corner fast inside. But it could still be a contested catch if I went right to the three-step slant. So there I gave him just that quick step out. He bit on it. I paused. And he has to pause when I pause. Now he’s always a step behind. I understand that. So I just go.”
Added Furrey: “We talk about Darnell’s growth and development in not just going 8,000 mph and being out of control. Right there, he was patient. He understood the coverage. He understood the leverage. And he gets us the first down.”
Even together with his heightened focus on the precision of his routes, Mooney additionally understands the significance of improvisation, notably with a quarterback as slippery and artistic as Fields. To that finish, the duo’s signature second to this point was the go-ahead 16-yard landing cross within the last minutes in Pittsburgh on the “Monday Night Football” stage in early November.
From the slot, Mooney ran a hitch path to the 5-yard line. But when Fields was pressured and compelled to evacuate the pocket to his left, Mooney alertly broke with him, slipping previous Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet and spinning again towards the left aspect of the tip zone. Fields noticed all the things he wanted to and hit the bull’s-eye, firing a dart face-mask excessive to Mooney and giving the Bears a 27-26 lead.
On the Bears sideline, Furrey was ecstatic.
“For Darnell, that’s seeing ‘1′ get out of the pocket and all of a sudden it’s, ‘Here I go. This is what the route concept was. But here’s what’s open.’
“That’s all experience. You can’t really emulate those things in practice. You’ve got to have a feel for it in the games. I think that’s where his game is really starting to elevate. … It’s fun to watch now. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch down the road.”
Fields was showered with commendation that evening and over the next week for that supply within the clutch. But simply as spectacular was Mooney’s physique management, his easy catch and his post-touchdown hurdle over a photographer.
From each gamers, the entire sequence seemed so rattling easy and — for the Bears — so unfamiliar.
That was not talked about sufficient,” Furrey mentioned. “Because it looks easy. But that’s when you know the chemistry is there. … Nobody talks about that because it’s like, ‘That’s how it’s supposed to go.’ That’s pretty neat.”
‘It’s a particular connection’
Perhaps nobody at Halas Hall stands to learn extra from Mooney’s continued ascension than Fields, who developed an early liking for the younger receiver given his soccer intelligence and real drive.
“They’re both wired the same way,” Bears coach Matt Nagy mentioned.
Fields and Mooney proceed utilizing that connection to speed up their progress collectively, recurrently staying after follow for added on-field repetition and dialing in on the small print of performs that want work.
“Whatever concept or route he has on a certain play,” Fields mentioned, “we’re just talking through it and making sure he’s running at the right depth and taking the right angle out of the break. Stuff like that.”
Fields loves the infectious high quality of Mooney’s ardour.
“There’s not much more you can really ask from him that he doesn’t do already,” Fields mentioned. “He’s always willing to get extra work in. He’s watching film constantly. With his work ethic, you know how much he loves the game and how much he wants to be great. That’s what I love about him. He truly inspired me to be a better player and a better teammate.”
Added Nagy: “It’s a special connection. And it’s a connection for those two guys, being as young as they are, that’s going to be hard to stop down the road. It’s pretty neat to see two young guys like that who believe in each other.”
That perception, Mooney insists, ought to solely get stronger as time goes by. Fields, who in Week 3 turned Mooney’s fourth beginning quarterback in simply his twentieth NFL sport, hopefully ought to present stability to the Bears quarterback scenario. And Mooney beleives he can present reliability from the receiving corps for years to return.
But even after getting into the league as a fifth-round draft decide and the twenty fourth receiver chosen in 2020, Mooney is a good distance from celebrating the place his profession journey has carried him. Because in his thoughts, the highest of the mountain continues to be miles away.
So a lot work is left.
“I think of it as a pissed-off mentality,” Mooney mentioned. “I am not anywhere near where I want to be at. And I’m not playing the way I want to play. Yet. So in my mind, I envision how I want to be playing in Year 5 or Year 6. And I channel that mindset.”
Every day gives a brand new alternative for progress.