Darnell Mooney

Evaluating Bears' Wide Receiver Competition Early in Training Camp

How Bears' WR competition is stacking up in early in camp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – Darnell Mooney has reached a training camp observation level reserved for the best of the best. The Bears’ No. 1 receiver has been Chicago’s most-impressive offensive player through seven practices. His play no longer requires close inspection.

He’s that guy. Check.

As for the rest of the Bears’ receiving corps set to engage in a “Lord of the Flies” battle for roster spots over the next month, the jockeying has begun, and tiers are starting to materialize.

Equanimeous St. Brown has stacked good practice on top of good practice. The 25-year-old is gelling with quarterback Justin Fields and is an early leader to be the Bears’ No. 2 receiver when camp breaks.

“He’s been in this offense for a number of years, so he really doesn’t make mistakes when it comes to running the plays and stuff like that,” Field said Wednesday of St. Brown. “He’s definitely always in the right spot and knows where to be on certain plays. He’s a weapon in this offense for sure.”

Fields targeted the 6-foot-5 St. Brown a lot during the Bears’ red-zone and low-red-zone drills during Week 1 of camp. St. Brown beat rookie Kyler Gordon for a score, then went up and mossed Kindle Vildor for another touchdown.

On Wednesday, Fields found St. Brown for several chunk plays during team drills. The second-year quarterback stepped up in the pocket and delivered a side-arm bullet to St. Brown on a crossing route for a gain of 15 during the “move the ball” period. He also hit him for 20-plus yards on a deep corner earlier in the day.

After Mooney and St. Brown, rookie Velus Jones Jr has been the only other Bears receiver to pop. That tracks with what Fields said Wednesday about where his chemistry is at with the different wide receivers.

“I think EQ for sure, Equanimeous,” Fields said when asked who he has good rapport with other than Mooney. “I think also [tight end Cole Kmet], I think he’s progressing every day, especially from last year, I think he’s getting better. And Byron [Pringle] for sure. And then Velus too. Those are all guys I’m getting a lot of reps with and kind of getting to know how they run their routes and stuff like that.”

Jones has flashed his game-breaking speed several times early in camp. On Day 4, the rookie scorched Greg Stroman for a 60-yard touchdown during individual drills. Then, in team drills, Jones’ speed allowed him to create enough separation from Gordon for Fields to hit him for a big gain down the left sideline.

The Bears are throwing everything at Jones as they look to find any way to get the ball in his hands and utilize his game-breaking speed.

This brings us to Pringle.

Fields says his chemistry with Pringle is coming along. That hasn’t really shown during practice. Pringle has dropped several balls and appeared to be a tad late on some of his breaks.
The wide receiver told the media he and Fields are still working on getting on the same page, especially in the scramble drill.

“He can extend plays for sure,” Pringle said of Fields. “I always heard about it, especially when he was coming out of college, him being able to keep the play alive. I just got to get my part down, which side he’s going to roll to. It’s like, ‘Oh no.’ Cat and mouse. He runs the opposite way I run. And I’m running the other way, so I just got to get on his page.”

The Pringle-Fields connection will be something to watch as camp continues and the preseason games begin. The expectation was that Pringle would be one of the Bears’ more reliable receivers, but the chemistry with Fields needs to improve for that to be the case.

The final member of the “almost certainly making the roster” group is N’Keal Harry.

Harry got a late start learning the offense after arriving in late July following a trade from the New England Patriots.

The former first-round pick had a rough couple days to open camp but has been more consistent this week. Harry made a few impressive grabs over the middle during team drills Wednesday, including a nice snag in traffic during the end-of-half portion of practice.

Fields lauded Harry for the extra work he has put in with the coaches to get up to speed learning the offense.

The Bears like where he is at right now, and his chemistry with Fields is improving with each practice. His frame, run-blocking ability, and potential make him an excellent candidate to make the roster.

At the moment, those five receivers are likely to make the roster in some order. Here’s where I think they stand after seven practices.

1. Darnell Mooney
2. Equanimeous St. Brown
3. Velus Jones Jr.
4. Byron Pringle
5. N’Keal Harry

The Bears likely will keep one more receiver on the 53-man roster. So far, I’d say two receivers are jockeying for the final spot: Dazz Newsome and Dante Pettis.

Newsome had some solid moments during the first week of camp and seemed to take an early leg up in the race for the No. 6 spot. Pettis had a few drops early but has looked more polished this week.

What the receivers can provide on special teams could determine who gets the final roster spot (should the Bears keep six receivers).

While Newsome and Pettis are off to good starts, there is more than enough time for one of the other receivers to make a run.

Veteran Tajae Sharpe was activated off the Non-Football Injury list Tuesday. Sharpe got a fair number of snaps with Fields during mandatory minicamp. Chris Finke and Nsimba Webster provide value on special teams.

Anything can happen in a room filled with hungry receivers fighting to stabilize their NFL lives. But seven practices in, the Bears’ receiver picture is starting to take shape. That can change in an instant, though.

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