Darnell Mooney Catches on Quickly with Long Approach

From a JUGS machine at home, to never missing an assignment, rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney has committed to improving his craft for the long haul

If it seems Darnell Mooney possesses skills beyond those of normal rookie receivers the Bears brought in over the years, there's a reason.

He understands the long game, and it goes beyond just chasing long balls.

It even goes well beyond the fact he has his own JUGS machine.

Mooney is dedicated to his craft above all else, and it's something Bears GM Ryan Pace saw when he scouted the former Tulane receiver.

"Receivers were coming off, we liked Mooney," Pace said after the draft. "He was graded really high on our board, a guy with just a ton of conviction from a lot of people in our building."

The conviction seems justified in how Mooney always works and constantly thinks about being a better receiver, which is the reason he bought the throwing machine for his home, an item retailing on Amazon for about $3,000.

"It was a purchase I knew I would need," Mooney said. "It was one of the purchases I've been wanting for a very long time, even in college."

In Mooney, the Bears found someone serious-minded about improving despite possessing 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Natural skills at this level are not enough, and Mooney recognized this.

The purchase of a JUGS machine seems a bit extreme, especially when most rookies are out blowing their first big check on hot cars or their first house. 

Yet Mooney has always had this long-range, practical approach approach, it seems. Mooney started becoming a saver and not a spender at an early age.

"Whenever my mom would give me something, money for snacks at school, I wouldn't spend it," Mooney said. "I would just put it in a shoebox at home and just continue to get some money from my mom every week and just put it in the shoebox."

When Mooney arrived in Chicago everyone talked about his speed. He thought instead about his hands and talked about route running, both of which can take him further for a longer career.

Being around Allen Robinson only reinforced Mooney's thoughts about needing to be the best he could be at catching passes.

"Just one of the things with catching-the-ball-wise, we have Allen out there," Mooney said. "I mean, literally, every time you throw Allen the ball he's going to catch the ball. So my demeanor of just catching-the-ball-wise was, I want to catch every time it's thrown to me but after you see him during the game, it's like, what? How is he even catching that?

"So I'm getting that mentality of just anywhere, whenever, I want the ball to be in my hands wherever it's thrown."

Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey has seen singular moments of growth in Mooney throughout this season, starting with his first catch against Detroit. Another came in the win over the Giants. The fifth-round pick is now tied for fifth among rookie wide receivers in receptions with 31, and no receiver taken after the 33rd pick this year has more.

On Sunday, Furrey saw more from Mooney on a catch in a crowd, and even on one catch ruled an incompletion.

"Even that catch he had (against Tennessee) that was called out of bounds in the end zone, that's just proof there right now that this kid, it seems like he's been around this league for a long time and nothing has fazed him," Furrey said.

Mooney appreciated this bit of recognition.

"You just gotta be hungry for the ball," Mooney said. "Wherever it is, anywhere in your vicinity, you gotta catch it. That's one of those I have, if I'm able to catch it then I'm going to catch it.

"Even the one that went out of bounds, didn't count, but if it's in the area I want to be able to catch the ball."

Mooney's serious approach goes beyond catching passes. And in this respect, it's a case where his habits are helping veterans instead of the other way around.

"First of all, nothing fazes this kid," Furrey said. "It's amazing the attribute that he has where he doesn't get high, he doesn't get low. He just literally has a focus where he mentally he knows what he's doing. I don't think he's had any MAs (missed assignments) over the last four or five weeks. Really it's hard for me to say an MA he's had this season, and as many plays as he's played in the game, his MAs, his work ethic (blocking) in the run game has been contagious amongst our veteran guys.

"Twelve (Robinson) and 17 (Anthony Miller) have seen the way he runs around in the run game, so that becomes contagious. Why would you want a rookie to kind of show you up with your effort in the run game?"

Perhaps in the future there will be other Bears receivers buying JUGS machines and taking the serious, long-term approach to everything they do, from catching passes to blocking or even saving a dollar or two here and there.

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