I didn’t write about Darnell Mooney in last week’s rookie watch, mostly because wide receivers coach Mike Furrey didn’t go into much detail about him when asked over Zoom.
Furrey did say he was pleased with where Mooney is mentally heading into training camp practices, which begin Monday at Halas Hall. And that fits with what wide receiver Allen Robinson said in talking about Mooney on Friday.
“I think he can be a great asset to our team,” Robinson said. "I got a chance to work out with Darnell over the summer in Florida, so being able to see pretty early and pretty quickly what he can do and what he can bring to the table. He’s a guy who’s freakishly athletic, can stretch the field. All said, he’s very mature for a rookie on the field and off the field. That’s what you want to see.
“He has a great grasp of the offense, so he’s coming along really fast and I think that’s going to allow him to get on the field as soon as possible.”
This all sounds encouraging for the fifth-round pick out of Tulane. Mooney’s speed is a trait the Bears can absolutely incorporate into their 2020 offense in some way (he ran a 4.38 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine). And if he’s picking up the offense quickly, as Robinson said, perhaps he won’t be an easily predictable player to defend.
Taylor Gabriel didn’t quite work out as a speedy downfield threat over his two years in Chicago, though he did a lot of other good things before concussions cut his career short last year. The addition of Ted Ginn Jr., along with Mooney, should help the Bears’ offense stretch the field more successfully than it could in years past, even if Ginn is in his mid-30’s and Mooney is trying to adjust to the NFL in a pandemic.
And that’ll help whoever the Bears’ quarterback winds up being.
But here’s the thing with Mooney, and with every other rookie across the NFL in 2020: It’s going to be really, really hard for them to get on the field early in their pro careers.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick summed up the challenge for rookies this way:
There’s no replacing the on-field work rookies lost with team facilities closed during the spring. The lack of minicamp orientation and OTA practices means foundations have to be built in July and August, not May and June. And without any preseason games, rookies will have to acclimate to the speed and physicality of NFL Sundays during the regular season – a tough proposition for coaches needing, first and foremost, to win games.
In short: It’s a good year to be a fringy veteran and a bad year to be a rookie.
But maybe the Bears can hone in on one or two things Mooney does well and deploy him that way. Or maybe he won’t even be active on gamedays – not with Robinson, Ginn, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and maybe Riley Ridley/Javon Wims ahead of him on the depth chart.
We’ll start to find out when the pads go on next week how Mooney, and the rest of the Bears’ rookie class, is viewed by coaches – and what their roles can actually be when Sept. 13 rolls around.