LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Seated in his stall in the corner of the Chicago Bears’ locker room, wide receiver DJ Moore smiled at the question.
How fast is Darnell Mooney on the field?
“That’s funny that you just asked that,” Moore said. “We were just talking about that between me, him and Tyler (Scott). I asked a funny question: ‘Who’s really faster out of us three?’ Of course, me. They all just laughed, but I was serious.”
Moore loves what the Bears have in their wide receivers room.
“It’s a lot of energy,” Moore said. “It’s a lot of hunger.”
That’s what Moore said more than a week ago at Halas Hall — a Thursday afternoon before a hyped game against the rival Green Bay Packers. After the Bears’ 38-20 loss, Moore stood at his stall by the exit of the team’s locker room at Soldier Field. He made only two catches in the game, not much to discuss.
From coach Matt Eberflus to quarterback Justin Fields to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to Moore himself, it’s one of the few topics that lingered this week, as another loss to the Packers — the first involving Moore — was scrutinized. Getsy described Moore’s lack of targets as a disappointment.
“I didn’t make a big deal out of it,” Moore said. “Green Bay pushed the coverage over to me sometimes. Sometimes things happen in the back end or behind us that I didn’t see. But it’s cool, I’m not too worried about it.”
Why? Well, it’s a long season. Moore said that Week 1 ended for him in film review on Monday.
“Everybody was ready to go into next weekend, which is Tampa,” Moore said. “So we want to take how we felt (out) on Tampa.”
It includes receiver Chase Claypool, whose performance against the Packers — which included missed blocks on screens — produced negative headlines as the All-22 coach’s film became public and diagnosed.
“He did a good job but wanted to be better,” Moore said Friday. “On the sideline, he came over and said that. This week he’s just been going hard in practice and honing in on his assignments so can’t wait to see how he does.”
A Week 1 loss, even to the Packers, didn’t shake Moore’s belief in what he and the Bears are doing. Moore expressed that belief throughout a 10-minute conversation specifically about his teammates with The Athletic a few days before the opener — and then again days before Week 2 against the Buccaneers.
“Shoot,” Moore said, ” it’s going to be a big response — impactful response.”
The Ron Rivera firing ended Moore’s second season with the Panthers. The Eberflus era — with Moore as a new captain and important offensive centerpiece — is in Year 2 in Chicago. This is what Moore sees in his team.
When Moore’s career began in 2018, quarterback Cam Newton’s successful run as the Panthers’ starter was nearing its injury-riddled conclusion, Christian McCaffrey was a blossoming star in the backfield and tight end Greg Olsen was closing in on retirement.
“I told Cole (Kmet) when we first got out there that you remind me so much of Greg,” Moore told The Athletic. “Just how they run and go about the game. They’re so dialed into everything that’s going on around them that they can make a play from any position they wanted to.”
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Olsen was entering his mid-30s when Moore was his teammate. The oldest player on the Bears roster is tight end Marcedes Lewis at 39 years old.
“You can see he still has love for the game and his body is well taken care of by him,” Moore said of Lewis. “When I talk to him, we don’t even talk about football. We talk about off-the-field stuff like music, real estate stuff, like off-the-field adventures. It’s great to have him on the team. You get to learn a lot about football and stuff off the field, too.”
The Bears don’t have a do-everything, McCaffrey-like running back. Moore said he sees Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman as having “home run” capabilities, including on screens, which Herbert showed in the preseason.
But rookie Roschon Johnson might be different. There have been glimpses of it. Players and coaches see it, too.
“I’m just waiting for what RoJo can do in the regular season,” Moore said.
“Very,” Moore interrupted. “Like scary. Like, dude, OK, you got to protect your body, too. So like, let’s calm down some.”
Not that the Bears want that to happen on game days. Johnson’s physical style fits the physical identity that Getsy and Eberflus want for their offense. Johnson ran over defenders in the preseason and then did it again in Week 1.
“It means he wants to make a statement to us,” Moore said, “and put the league on notice that he is who he is.”
In 2019, Moore broke out. There wasn’t a sophomore slump but second-year success. Moore made 87 catches for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns.
But the Panthers also had veteran Curtis Samuel, who made 54 catches for 627 yards and six scores.
For three years, Carolina had a good receiving tandem.
The Bears have Moore, Mooney and Chase Claypool.
“I knew about (Mooney) before I got here because he had a 1,000-yard season going on,” Moore said. “He was making crazy catches that year.
“Then when I got here, he was just nice, open arms, very helpful. Now that we’re on the field, he’s got that dog mentality. He always wants to make a play no matter what it is, whether it’s blocking or catching the ball.”
Claypool is different from Mooney, Moore and Samuel.
“When I first got here, I didn’t know Chase was that big … and with his catch radius,” Moore said. “The plays that he makes when he’s jumping and out reaching for the ball is crazy because I’ve never seen somebody like that (with) his size and his speed be able to do that.”
At least, not on the same roster as him in the NFL.
Then there’s Scott, the rookie speedster whom Moore believes he can still outrun. Scott, a fourth-round pick, is fast and talkative. He wants to learn.
“He asks a lot of questions,” Moore said. “Well, not to me, but I know he likes to try to follow everything that I do. And when I do say something, I know he writes it down and we talk about it.”
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The best player on the Panthers roster in Moore’s first two seasons was on defense. Linebacker Luke Kuechly was still in the prime of his career, though he was about to end it soon because of his own concussion history. In Moore’s first season, Kuechly was a first-team All-Pro for the fifth time.
In Chicago, the Bears signed linebacker Tremaine Edmunds away from the Bills to essentially fill the same role in the same defensive scheme.
“He’s huge,” Moore said. “He’s a huge piece literally in the middle of the defense that people are going to have to try to get around.”
Moore, though, spends his practices trying to get around cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and rookie Tyrique Stevenson. The Panthers drafted Donte Jackson in the second round after taking Moore in the first in 2018. Johnson is still a starter in Carolina.
Johnson and Stevenson are second-round picks, too.
What makes Johnson a tough matchup?
“His instincts, his quickness,” Moore said. “He’s going to read the quarterback and just believes in what he sees and then goes after the ball. But at the same time, he can still play man-to-man. He’ll be hip to hip with you and you’ll know because he’s going to be in the way of you catching the ball.”
The Bears traded up from 61 to draft Stevenson at No. 56.
“They’re similar but a little bit different,” Moore said. “Tyrique is more, I want to say, physical. It’s more at the line, per se. Then he could run, he could do all that, track the ball and everything. He’s going to be a good one.”
Stevenson will let you hear about it, too.
“He’s got that confidence in him,” Moore said. “People that talk a lot sometimes can’t back it up, but he backed it up quite a few times when he had some battles. So loving that from him.
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From 2018 to 2022, which team started more quarterbacks: the Bears or Panthers?
It’s the Panthers — by just one.
In Moore’s Carolina tenure, the Panthers offense turned to Newton, Taylor Heineke, Kyle Allen, Will Grier, Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield.
The Bears have started Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, Fields, Trevor Siemian and Nathan Peterman in that time.
With the Bears, Moore is trying to form a lasting connection with Fields. He’s never had stability at the NFL’s most important position — and the hardest to get right.
To use a golf analogy, what has Moore learned about the different clubs that Fields has in his bag?
“That they all just want to be reliable to him,” Moore said. “Like if you pick up a 9-iron or a putter or driver, that it’s going to hit every time. So you need to be on the same page with the person that’s swinging the club. It’s the best thing.”
Did Moore know that Fields had that good of a “driver”?
“Yeah, I knew,” he said. “I watched the Big Ten, even though he went to Ohio State and I went to Maryland. We’ll save that for another day. But just coming in, like the leader he is, like everything he has lived up to. Would we love to see him not run a lot? Yes, and we’re going to work on that.”
(Top photo of DJ Moore: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)
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