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Bears devising plan to make up for loss of Mooney

Bears receivers Byron Pringle and Chase Claypool
Bears receivers Byron Pringle and Chase Claypool

Replacing top receiver Darnell Mooney, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury in last Sunday's loss to the Jets, will be a group effort for the Bears.

"I think it's going to be by committee," said coach Matt Eberflus. "I think we're going to have to spread the ball around. Obviously, Mooney is a dynamic player. He's had a good chemistry with Justin [Fields] and the rest of the quarterbacks, and I think we've got to do it by committee, using all of them the best way we can based on their skillsets."

Mooney leads the Bears in all receiving categories with 61 targets, 40 catches and 493 yards. After catching 10 passes for 173 yards in the first five games, he had 30 receptions for 320 yards in the last seven contests.

Equanimeous St. Brown has started all 12 games, excelling as a blocker while also catching 14 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown. Veterans Byron Pringle and Chase Claypool are among those expected to help fill the void created by Mooney's absence.

Injuries have limited Pringle to six games this season, but he has appeared in the last three contests and appears to be fully healthy. Last Sunday he caught two passes for 12 yards and one touchdown against the Jets.

"I think it is a big opportunity for him and others," Eberflus said. "Pringle had a nice game last week, caught a nice touchdown pass, blocked well in the run game, had a couple nice targets. It was good for him."

Pringle's first touchdown of the season came on a 4-yard reception when he snatched Trevor Siemian's pass away from Jets cornerback D.J. Reed. Pringle also made a contested catch for an 8-yard reception in the game.

"I never know when I'm going to get it again, so I'm going to get the ball," Pringle said. "I was just trying to win the game, play ball at a high level and when my jersey's called, just go out there and execute at a high level."

Claypool's playing time has increased over the past three weeks, from 19 snaps against the Lions to 29 versus the Falcons to 38 against the Jets. Last Sunday he had two catches for 51 yards—the most yards in the four games he's played since being acquired by the Bears in a trade with the Steelers.

Asked what he'd like to see from Claypool moving forward, Eberflus said: "Just clean operation, like we do with all our receivers. Alignment, assignment, get lined up, know the motions, know your force blocks and then really just playmaking ability. Let's see him get the ball in the deep part of the field."

Another receiver who could see expanded action is rookie third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. After two games as a healthy scratch, he played eight snaps on offense against the Falcons and 12 versus the Jets but was not targeted in either contest—though he rushed for six yards on two carries last weekend.

"It's like anybody that's coming in that's new: rookies or guys that we acquire," Eberflus said. "It's always about, 'Hey, can you play fast? How do you play fast?' Well, you do that by 'I know my alignment, I know my assignment and, man, I can go rip it and go play. And I can discern things on the fly.' If we end up changing the play or adjusting the play at the line of scrimmage, can you adjust and can you do that?

"He's getting better at it. That's why he's seeing more touches and seeing more things. We're always looking to get him involved because he's a heck of an athlete and he's an explosive player."

Receiver Dante Pettis likely will also continue to contribute on offense. This season he has caught 13 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Eberflus praised Pettis for playing last Sunday against the Jets despite being sick.

"Dante Pettis was throwing up before the game and was potentially not going to be able to make it out there," Eberflus said. "He wasn't feeling great, so we got him some medication there and he ended up [playing].

"I said, 'Hey, can you go out there and fair-catch punts?' He goes, 'Yeah, I can do that.' So he goes out to warmups and all of a sudden he's ready to go. He had a 12-yard return, played good, had that one good catch in the middle of the field, and ended up toughing it out."

Pettis did not practice Wednesday due to his illness, while Claypool was limited because of a knee injury he sustained versus the Jets. The Bears are hoping that both will be able to play Sunday when they host the Packers at Soldier Field.

Although Mooney will be missed, Fields is eager to begin developing a greater rapport with the other receivers once the quarterback is able to return from the left shoulder injury that sidelined him versus the Jets.

"I'm excited to build that connection more with other receivers on the team," Fields said. "I think it's going to be fun finding out what different guys can do because in our offense we usually game plan on certain routes what Darnell could do. But it's going to be fun figuring out what other guys can do out there and just getting together with them."

The Bears headed inside the Walter Payton Center Wednesday afternoon to continue preparing for Sunday's matchup with the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.