LOOK­ING IN ON THE ROOK­IES

WR MOONEY, TE KMET HAVE BEEN BEST OF SOLID LOT DUR­ING FIRST WEEK OF TRAIN­ING CAMP

Chicago Sun-Times - - BEARS BEAT - BY JASON LIESER | Jlieser@sun­times.com | @ja­sonLieser

There are plenty of nice things the Bears can say about rookie re­ceiver Dar­nell Mooney. He’s un­com­monly fast — pos­si­bly the speed­i­est player on the team — and has cor­ner­back-shak­ing moves that will trans­late well to the NFL. That’s just the begin­ning. But here’s the high­est com­pli­ment a re­ceiver can get at Halas Hall: ‘‘Re­minds me a lot of A-Rob in the meet­ings,’’ coach Matt Nagy ob­served. A-Rob, of course, is the ever-pro­fes­sional, ever-pro­duc­tive Allen Robin­son. He is widely re­garded in the or­ga­ni­za­tion as the ul­ti­mate worker who does ev­ery as­pect of his job the right way. Any­one who re­minds Nagy of him is off to a great start.

Whether he knew that or not be­fore ar­riv­ing in Lake For­est, Mooney be­gan study­ing un­der Robin­son dur­ing the off­sea­son.

When Robin­son put out a call for all Bears re­ceivers to join him for work­outs this sum­mer in Tampa, Florida, Mooney jumped on it. He, Robin­son and Javon Wims gut­ted it out in ‘‘crazy’’ heat, and Mooney got a first­hand look at a player the Bears hold up as ex­em­plary

If Mooney com­bines his un­de­ni­able skills with Robin­son’s work ethic, watch out. The Bears might be get­ting a lot more than any­one ex­pected from a prospect they took in the fifth round at No. 173 over­all out of Tu­lane.

Mooney has been get­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties with the starters in the first week of train­ing camp as the Bears sort out their re­ceiver hi­er­ar­chy be­hind Robin­son. An­thony Miller and Ted Ginn have more ex­pe­ri­ence, but Nagy won’t hes­i­tate to roll with Mooney if he out­shines them.

Mooney has made good use of his snaps so far, wow­ing team­mates with his speed — he clocked 4.38 sec­onds in the 40-yard dash at the com­bine — and flu­ency in the of­fense.

‘‘I’m very com­fort­able,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘If you know the plays, you don’t have any type of con­fu­sion or dis­com­fort with it. If you know what you’re do­ing, you just go out there and play ball.’’

Mooney isn’t the only Bears rookie mak­ing a splash at camp. While some of their seven draft picks are con­sid­ered more longterm projects, a few al­ready look poised to make an im­pact this sea­son. Here’s a quick check-in on each of them:

Sec­ond-rounders Cole Kmet, Jay­lon John­son

Kmet has been the star of the draft class so far, which is ex­actly what the Bears had hoped for. They took him No. 43 over­all, the high­est of any tight end se­lected this year, and needed him to be an in­stant-im­pact player. They’re look­ing for a com­bi­na­tion of him and Jimmy Graham to turn around one of the worst po­si­tions on the ros­ter last sea­son.

Nagy couldn’t stop talk­ing about how quickly Kmet mas­tered the play­book dur­ing the off­sea­son, and tight ends coach Clancy Barone took it a step fur­ther by as­sess­ing that Kmet is ‘‘ahead of sched­ule’’ for a rookie.

‘‘I think that he’s go­ing to be a star in this league,’’ said safety Tashaun Gip­son, who has been cov­er­ing Kmet. ‘‘He’s a big­ger guy than you would prob­a­bly imag­ine for a guy that can run and catch like that. So the tight end group, I feel like, is def­i­nitely be­yond solid. They’re go­ing to help us win some foot­ball games, for sure.’’

As for John­son, he has a path to a start­ing job but still has to bat­tle Kevin To­liver to se­cure it. For­mer first-round pick Ar­tie Burns was in con­tention, too, but he tore the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in his left knee. While John­son is fa­vored to win the com­pe­ti­tion, he hasn’t taken over yet.

It was a chal­leng­ing draft for the Bears, who had only two of the first 150 selections. Their most valu­able picks af­ter the sec­ond-rounders were Nos. 155, 163 and 173 in the fifth round. They landed pass rusher Gip­son, cor­ner­back Vil­dor and Mooney, be­liev­ing they had plucked a trio of gems on the third day of the draft.

‘‘We felt really good in the fifth round get­ting all three of those guys — and so far, so good,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘There’s been no con­cern of, ‘Uh-oh, I’m not sure if this was a good pick.’ Not at all. They are all do­ing really well.’’

Gip­son has been get­ting some snaps as a sec­ond-string out­side line­backer be­cause the Bears are lim­it­ing Khalil Mack and hav­ing Robert Quinn work on the side.

‘‘We’re not cheat­ing Tre­vis by any means on reps; he’s get­ting plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to get eval­u­ated and get bet­ter,’’ po­si­tion coach Ted Monachino said. ‘‘The one thing I will tell you is I think the pro­jec­tion was a really good pro­jec­tion.

‘‘There’s been noth­ing that said to me that this guy can’t do what we ask our guys to do at the po­si­tion . . . . He’s young and he’s learn­ing, but I think he’s a guy that can make big steps as he moves for­ward.’’

Vil­dor has proved com­pe­tent, as well, but the depth chart is stacked against him. The Bears fig­ure to open with Kyle Fuller and John­son on the out­side and Buster Skrine in the slot, with To­liver and Duke Shel­ley next in line.

Sev­enth-rounders Lachavi­ous Sim­mons, Ar­ling­ton Ham­bright

The num­bers were never in fa­vor of Sim­mons or Ham­bright mak­ing the 53-man ros­ter, but that’s less of a neg­a­tive this year than in the past. With the ex­panded prac­tice squads and a pro­vi­sion al­low­ing teams to pro­tect those play­ers, they cer­tainly can stick around as es­sen­tially third-string of­fen­sive line­men.

Most teams op­er­ate with five start­ing line­men and three ver­sa­tile back­ups, and the Bears’ plan for that unit is fairly ob­vi­ous. Jason Spriggs and Rashaad Cow­ard are on track for two of the re­serve spots, leav­ing one for Ham­bright (prob­a­bly a guard), Sim­mons (prob­a­bly a tackle) and a cou­ple of vet­er­ans. For­mer Notre Dame guard Alex Bars was with the team last sea­son and has the best shot.

None­the­less, Nagy has seen signs both rook­ies can make it in the NFL.

‘‘Right where we want them to be,’’ he said. ‘‘When you get drafted in the sev­enth round, some­times there’s that word ‘de­vel­op­men­tal’ at­tached to you. But in our case, with [of­fen­sive line coach Juan] Castillo, it’s let’s go right away. So he wants to de­velop them ASAP, and I think they’re learn­ing what he teaches and they’re do­ing a good job.’’ ✶

Rookie re­ceiver Dar­nell Mooney (shown dur­ing the com­bine in Fe­bru­ary) has drawn an early com­par­i­son to vet­eran Allen Robin­son (be­low) from coach Matt Nagy. CHAR­LIE NEIBERGALL/AP (MOONEY), JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IM­AGES (ROBIN­SON)

AP PHO­TOS

Cole Kmet

Jay­lon John­son

Kin­dle Vil­dor

Tre­vis Gip­son

Ar­ling­ton Ham­bright

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