Mooney knows rookie Jones Jr. can be ‘playmaker' for Bears


LAKE FOREST – There's no doubt Darnell Mooney has looked around the Bears' wide receiver room and noticed all of the new faces.

One of those new faces, one the Bears hope can provide a jolt to the much-maligned unit, has stuck out in particular.

Velus Jones Jr.

"One guy, Velus, man. When he gets the ball, y'all are going to see," Mooney said unprompted Tuesday after the Bears' first mandatory minicamp practice. "He can fly. He can be a playmaker for sure for us."

Mooney is the Bears' unquestioned No. 1 receiver. He is the most-talented pass-catcher on the roster and the only one who has developed a connection with quarterback Justin Fields.

The Bears signed Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, and Dante Pettis this offseason.

On Tuesday, the Bears' rotated receivers on the "first team" alongside Mooney, with Pringle and St. Brown getting most of the snaps.

Jones, who the Bears drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, didn't get a lot of run with the first team Tuesday. However, he did spring open down the left sideline for what would have been a long gain, but Fields' pass drifted a bit and forced him out of bounds.

Jones was electric during his time at Tennessee. It's unclear how the Bears will utilize the speedy receiver this season, but the belief is that Jones can contribute from the jump.

"He can handle this league, you can see that already," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said of Jones at Bears rookie minicamp last month. "Then, the speed just jumped at you on the tape. When that guy gets the ball in his hands, he looks like 4.3 on the field. Not many guys can do that, and I think that is what stood out about this guy. He has a chance to score every time he touches the ball."

Jones communicated with Fields from the moment he was drafted, trying to "manifest" greatness with his new signal-caller.

The 25-year-old believes his age and maturity will benefit him early in his NFL career. That age and desire to stick in the NFL has been apparent to his coaches early on.

"I think he has hunger," wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said during OTAs. "And you hit the nail right on the head: he has maturity. He already has his Master's degree. So, he's a smart guy, mature beyond his years, takes his job very seriously. He's in the meetings taking really good notes. He brought his own little whiteboard, erase board. He's taking notes and erasing, and he's drawing plays. So, he takes his job very seriously.

"We've thrown him into the fire pretty quick, put him at two positions immediately. Get him to learn it now. Because we want him to learn the whole concept. But specifically, a couple of positions to get him going, so whenever he can … the more he can do, the more obviously he'll have a chance to play. So, we're going to throw it all at him and see what he soaks in, and hopefully, he'll get out there and make some plays for us."

The Bears' offense remains a severe work in progress at this point in the offseason. They are experimenting with different offensive line combinations and are having Fields throw to just about every receiver on the depth chart.

Fields' growth will determine whether Getsy's system succeeds this fall. The second-year quarterback is doing everything in his power to reach the lofty heights many believe he can achieve.

"He wants to take over the league," Mooney said of Fields. "He's already Justin Fields. He wants to be the best quarterback in the league. He's taken the stride to be there. I got unbelievable faith that he will be there, and his success is my success, so as long as he's doing good, I'm doing good, we're all doing good."

However, for Fields and Mooney to thrive, the offense must have another weapon for defenses to respect and fear.

Tight end Cole Kmet will play a vital role in Getsy's wide-zone attack, but Jones could be the ultimate X-factor for the Bears' offense this season.

"He's fast," Field said of Jones. "He can make plays. Yards after the catch, for sure. He's a good player."

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