Closer to the start of the regular season, Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney will write down his goals for his second year — touchdowns, catches and yards. But he already knows what he wants.
“This year, I just want to be an explosive player,” he said. “I want to be dominant. I want to be a known factor, a known name.”
He said he doesn’t care about the adulation, just the respect. He wants there to be no confusion about what he brings.
“It’s really an expectation for myself, knowing what I’m able to do,” he said. “Taking a slant for 80 yards — like, I want to be able to do that, just for myself. Not for anyone else.”
For all that Mooney was able to accomplish last season — his 61 catches were tied for fourth-most in NFL history by a rookie drafted in the fifth round or later — he never really got that kind of opportunity. His longest reception was for 53 yards in the season finale against the Packers.
“I really don’t think I was able to use my talent — my speed,” Mooney said. “I didn’t have anything breaking out where I was catching a ball and using my speed or using how fast I am.”
That would be the next logical step for the 2020 fifth-round pick, who emerged as the Bears’ No. 2 receiver last year at this time and finished with 631 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think we all knew deep down inside he had that ability to do it,” coach Matt Nagy said. “We weren’t sure if he would do it, and he did. But to everybody that knows Darnell Mooney, you realize it doesn’t surprise you because he’s as hard of a worker as there is and he cares more than anybody.”
He also has chosen the right mentor, having spent the last year following around Allen Robinson, perhaps the most respected player in the locker room. On Thursday night, Nagy texted the two of them pictures of a play to give them pointers about the proper technique. They responded right away.
“[Mooney] challenges himself each and every day to get better on specifics and details when it comes to route-running, when it comes to certain catches and things like that,” Robinson said. “He’s a guy who wants to get better, and he’s very eager about it. So I think whenever guys have that mindset to get better each and every day to continue to challenge themselves, the sky is the limit for him.”
Mooney isn’t the only receiver looking to turn on the jets. Former 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin, who was once an Olympic long jumper, became the fastest player on the team when the Bears signed him. Damiere Byrd, who had 604 receiving yards for the Patriots last year, will bounce between the slot and outside receiver spots. And rookie Dazz Newsome also will look to replace Anthony Miller in the slot when he returns from a broken collarbone.
“You throw in the [40-yard dash] times of those guys, and these are 40 times that show up on the field with Goodwin and Byrd and Mooney,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “Those guys can fly, and I think it opens things up for us.”
If it does, more people will know Mooney’s name.
“I’m hoping they just believe I’m going to go out here and ball, and to watch out for [me and] just [have] an understanding that I’m going to be a threat on the field and just respect it,” he said. “Or [else] I’m going to feel disrespected — and that’s going to be a problem.”