Darnell Mooney wasn’t nervous to play his first NFL game. He was barely even hyped up. For the first time since he was a kid, the Bears’ rookie receiver didn’t even listen to music to get ready.
“I guess in high school and college you’re just, ‘I have to do so good to get to the NFL,’” he said Tuesday. “I’m here now. I know the ball will eventually get to me. I have more opportunities to do what I can do. Instead of trying to make something happen at any chance, I can just be calm and let the play happen.’’
He looked it against the Lions, catching three passes for 38 yards.
“The one thing I’m most impressed about is just his body demeanor, his mentality,” receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “It’s like he’s a five-year veteran in this league already.”
Mooney, one of three fifth-round picks. wasn’t even the best performer of the Bears’ rookie class Sunday. For a class that didn’t have a first-round selection, Bears rookies played a huge role in their 27-23 win against the Lions:
• Cornerback Jaylon Johnson became the first rookie cornerback to start a Bears opener since Walt Harris in 1996, played every snap and broke up two passes — one that was tipped to Kyle Fuller and the other that ended the game in the end zone.
“I knew [Lions quarterback Matthew] Stafford was coming back that way,” he said of the 16-yard heave into the end zone as the clock expired. “That was his best receiver on that side. He was just trying to look the defense off. But it was obvious he was coming back It was just being able to find the ball, make a play on the ball and break it up.”
• Tight end Cole Kmet, the Bears’ other second-round pick, played 31 percent of the team’s offensive downs. And while the Notre Dame alum didn’t have a catch and was targeted only once, his presence – along with that of fellow in-line blocker Demetrius Harris — allowed coach Matt Nagy to do what he couldn’t last year. The Bears had three tight ends and one receiver on the field 10 times Sunday after doing so 10 times all last season.
‘They work very well together and they always have throughout training camp and so on,” tight ends coach Clancy Barone said of Harris and Kmet. “I like their attention to detail in the run game … the way that they are able to spot the defense the right way with their assignments and technique.”
• Outside linebacker Trevis Gipson played 12 defensive snaps to help spell the injured Robert Quinn, while another fifth-round pick, cornerback Kindle Vildor, played eight downs on special teams.
The dearth of preseason games made it impossible for the Bears to tell what they had in their rookies, though they felt particularly good about Johnson, Kmet and Mooney. It made them hard to scout, too, though Mooney’s Tulane tape preceded him.
“As soon as I was getting out there, [Lions players] were yelling, ‘Speed, speed, speed,’” he said.
He’d prefer that teams try to press him at the line of scrimmage, so he can use that speed.
“I’m sure there are going to be multiple teams,” he said. “You’re a rookie, they don’t care how fast you are, they’re going to put a lot of hands on you. But I’m ready.”
Opposing teams are bound to adjust to Johnson and Kmet, too. But the first week gave the Bears’ rookies reason to be excited.
“First thing’s first, we gotta keep showing up week-in and week-out,” Johnson said. “Also, staying healthy as well. If we can do those things, keep progressing, and keep staying healthy, there’s no telling what we could do as a rookie class.”