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Mooney, Claypool motivated to excel following return to practice

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After participating in the Bears' first training camp practice Wednesday, receivers Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney are motivated to continue ascending in the offense and return to their peak form.

While Claypool practiced during the first week of OTAs this spring before missing the end of the program with an undisclosed injury, Mooney hadn't practiced with the Bears since suffering a season-ending ankle injury November 27.

On Wednesday, Mooney participated in individual work and 7-on-7 drills, where he connected with quarterback Justin Fields on a slant route after separating from rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

"I've been doing some things in the offseason and summer already with one-on-ones and catches from routes and all that," Mooney said, "so I'm comfortable with doing a lot of things. It wasn't my first actual competition. I've been doing it for a while.

"I'm confident in what I can do. I appreciate these guys just taking the time and not letting me punish myself going out there full go. Whenever they let me out the cage, I'll be ready for sure."

Mooney's eagerness to practice at full speed comes from an extensive and tough rehabilitation process. Prior to his injury, the Tulane product already expected to have surgery on his left ankle following the 2022 season to clean up "prior issues from [his] rookie year to [his] sophomore season here." So when Mooney suffered his ankle injury last year, he saw it as "God sitting me down a little earlier," and felt somewhat prepared for the mental journey he was about to endure.

While he faced many difficult parts of his time away, such as watching games at home, constantly turning the TV on and off and seeing other injured teammates like safety Eddie Jackson and linebacker Jack Sanborn ahead of schedule, Mooney is also "happy [he] went through the journey."

"I enjoyed the process," Mooney said. "There are some things you learn when you're isolated and by yourself for a while. You learn things about yourself, just have a lot more self-awareness and understanding of the things going on around you."

Being forced to be without football for a significant period of time, Mooney gained a new perspective of himself and admitted "I've got to calm down a lot."

"I'm a calm person but in my head, I talk to myself a lot, point out some things that I'm too hard on myself on," he said. "I don't have to be that hard on myself. Just go and enjoy life and just be a good person and be this happy person that I am."

The Bears headed into the Walter Payton Center Wednesday for the first full-squad practice of Enjoy Illinois Training Camp.

Claypool's offseason journey looked a lot different than Mooney's but was equally as intense, as the receiver spent the majority of his time honing in on the playbook.

Joining the Bears midseason last year meant Claypool had little time to adjust to a new organization before stepping onto the field and being expected to perform at a high level.

Having a full spring and summer to dive deeper into the offense and connect more with both Fields and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has increased Claypool's confidence and comfort level with the Bears.

"It's tough to play as free and as fast as you can when you're running up to the line and you're trying to think not only what you have, but what the guy beside you has because that matters as well," Claypool said. "So now knowing what each position is doing and being able to plug and play everywhere, it just makes the game easier."

To nail down the playbook, Claypool created cue cards with the name of a play on the front and a drawing of the play on the back. He spent time testing himself every day until he got each card correct.

"I'd set something up where I'd have an AirPod in and I'd have the audio recording of me saying the play," Claypool said. "Then I ran the play, and the play would pop up after. So pretty intuitive stuff right there."

Finally feeling settled into Chicago and his new organization, Claypool felt a positive shift in his attitude this spring, which Fields noticed during offseason practices. The receiver feels he "was able to be myself more" and "be the leader that I wanted to be."

Now entering his fourth NFL season and first full year with the Bears, Claypool's internal motivation is as high as ever. This season he aspires to be "a big-time playmaker" for the team which will add toward the ultimate goal of a championship.

"It's the biggest year of my life, and I understand that," Claypool said. "If anybody thinks my work ethic isn't matching that, they're deeply mistaken. I get motivated and motivated and motivated. It keeps building on top of each other. My work ethic grows from last year. It will grow after this year.

"I learn from things. I'm always growing, just like everybody in the room should be. They should always grow from their mistakes. The goal is the same. At the end of the day, it's to win football games. My contract year aside, I want to win football games."

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