LAKE FOREST – Darnell Mooney no longer walks or talks like a fifth-round draft pick from Tulane fighting to make it in the NFL. Instead, he glides around with the confidence of a No. 1 receiver who knows he has everything in front of him.
"My mindset has always stayed the same," Mooney said Thursday after the Bears' second training camp practice. "I just, even from college, I always wanted to be the hardest working guy and continuously be great and do the best thing I can do with my ability. I always wanted to train and be a player as if I was a walk-on going to college. I always wanted to work like that, so my mindset has not changed.
"I still want to be great. Still want to be the best player, best receiver in the league. And I'll get that."
That's the energy and attitude this Bears' receiving corps needs. Mooney worked overtime last season to develop chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields and it paid off. He enters training camp as the Bears' unquestioned No. 1 receiver and appears headed for a breakout season.
While Mooney is a budding star, the rest of the Bears' receiving corps is a collection of players who have either played minimal roles at their previous stops or are fighting to resurrect their NFL careers.
It's imperative Mooney sets the tone and leads the way for a group with low expectations.
"Darnell's an impressive guy," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. "I love his approach, love his mindset, I love the way he attacks the classroom and then on the field, I think he's all business, and then he does a good job of leading those guys.
"He's not like an outspoken guy by any means but he does a great job leading by example and then having those really good conversations on the side with guys and then bringing them along. He's someone that we're definitely going to be counting on this year for sure."
Getsy, who previously worked for the Green Bay Packers, knew Mooney was dynamic. But the third-year receiver looks even better in person. He's the perfect top-tier weapon for the offense Getsy is installing.
"You watch a lot film on a guy and I've always been impressed with him," Getsy said. "And then you've kind of got to see him get better each year and he's capable of doing a lot of different things. I think that's what's so cool about him. I think he's a guy that can line up outside and beat someone in a one-on-one, he can run by you because he's fast enough and he can play in the slot and do a bunch of those things and then he has a high football IQ too. So, I think all of those things make him a really special guy with what we want to do."
Mooney understands the responsibilities that come with being the Bears' No. 1 receiver. With Allen Robinson gone, opposing defenses will focus on Mooney, believing if they shut him down, the Bears' passing game will sputter.
But his responsibilities extend far beyond production on Sundays. Mooney understands that as "the guy," it's on him to deliver the rest of the group to the desired destination. No matter what it takes.
"I feel like everybody, if they just work, extremely workー I'm going to take another, not risk, but task to help everybody out," Mooney said. "I know I can't just do everything on my own. I have to be able to have help around the field. I need a guy that I can trust, that Justin can trust, and they can help out in the offense as a whole. So, if everybody is working, working, we can do anything but get better."
Hunger is the defining theme of this Bears' receiving corps. Everyone from Mooney to Equanimeous St. Brown to Byron Pringle and N'Keal Harry is chasing something, whether it be greatness, validation, or survival.
Armed with the supreme confidence of a guy who knows no one will outwork him, Mooney is shining light in the abyss of the Bears' receiver room. If that group is going to prove people wrong this fall, it'll be because Darnell Mooney makes it so.