Get DJ Moore the ball.
After months of offseason buildup about what Moore could do for the Bears offense, the sixth-year wide receiver had just two catches on two targets in the season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers.
So Fields’ first throw against the Bucs went down the field to Moore, who sped toward the sideline for a 33-yard gain. Three plays later, on third-and-5, Fields connected again with Moore, who looped away from his defender to make the catch and then sprinted down the left sideline for 31 yards. The Bears scored a touchdown two plays later.
“He’s probably one of the best playmakers we have on offense, so I just wanted to get him the ball,” Fields said. “(On the third-down catch) he made a good decision on a choice route, broke out and the line protected enough on that play, and of course it was a big play. He’s smart in those situations. He always makes the right decision.”
As Moore finished with six catches for 104 yards in the 27-17 loss, it brought into focus that the player the Bears acquired from the Carolina Panthers as part of a package for the No. 1 draft pick can’t possibly be the sole savior of the offense.
But if the Bears are to find consistency under Fields after a disappointing 0-2 start, Moore needs to be a major part of it.
Moore, 26, is no stranger to playing under difficult circumstances. During three losing seasons in college at Maryland, he caught passes from eight quarterbacks. During five losing seasons in Carolina, he played with eight more QBs.
But he tried to stay humble while remembering he’s a good player.
“That was my whole mentality, staying true to who I am and always being reliable,” Moore said. “If you dwell on stuff and get mad, nothing ever goes good. So there’s no point in getting mad.”
Don’t get mad, get even … more catches. It seems like a good motto for Moore’s career — and the journey ahead with the Bears that Moore really wants to work out.
“I hope I’m here until I ride off into the sunset,” Moore said. “Mainly (I just want to) win a lot of games, make the fan base happy, make the ownership happy, bring glory to the team and just continue to keep the excitement within the Bears.”
The Bears are keen on the tools that could help him do it.
‘Trying to score on every play’
Bears wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert has a favorite message to send to his players in their group text thread whenever a receiver doesn’t show good play strength on or after a catch.
It’s a photo of the Bears strength coach with instructions to “see Jim Arthur.”
The 6-foot, 210-pound Moore doesn’t get that message often.
“That’s something I underestimated from DJ when he got here was his play strength,” Tolbert said. “He can catch balls with guys draped all over him. He can break tackles. … He doesn’t have to see Jim Arthur that much.”
Ask Bears coaches and players what Moore does best, and they’ll give you a long list of attributes.
He has good body control and strong hands. He’s smart. He can track the football well in the air. He’s fast and knows how to change speed within routes, having learned in his rookie season that he didn’t need to “run 100 mph every play.”
He can throw off defensive backs with his body language, which Tolbert described as not turning on “blinkers” to signal when he’s going to stop or change direction.
“If you show this tip, that’s a blinker: You’re about to turn right,” Tolbert said. “If your pads raise up, that’s a blinker: You’re getting ready to stop. If you’re looking at the ground, that’s a blinker: You’re getting ready to stop.
“That’s why DBs have a hard time reading him. Because he doesn’t turn on very many blinkers.”
Finally, Moore has a driven mentality, which he displayed on a preseason catch against the Buffalo Bills. He caught the pass from Fields, put his hand on the ground, turned around, emerged from a crowd of four defenders and picked up an extra 20 yards for a 40-yard gain.
Fields was surprised when he realized Moore hadn’t been tackled.
“It’s just that mindset he has where he is trying to score on every play,” Fields told the Tribune last month.
Until a decline last season, Moore averaged at least 4.8 yards after catch each season, with highs of 7.9 and 6.1 in two of his first three years, according to Next Gen Stats. Over the first two Bears games, he has a 7.3 average. His two catches against the Packers included breaking tackles, and his first two against the Bucs involved him speeding for longer gains.
Whereas Tolbert pointed to play strength and Fields pointed to mindset, Moore gave a different reason for why he gains extra yards: “Not wanting to get hit.”
“And probably strength too,” he said. “I have great balance, so that too. But mainly I don’t want to get hit too much, or if I do get hit, I try to lessen the blow by making somebody miss.”
Bears running back D’Onta Foreman, who played with Moore last season in Carolina, said Moore has “a nice little spin move he uses to get out of traffic,” like the one displayed against the Bills.
Moore said he was playing around during a Panthers practice and tried out the move. It worked and he stuck with it.
“It’s kind of weird,” Foreman said. “It’s like he knows exactly where the defender is, even if he didn’t see him. He does this little spin move that he does and he comes up out of it.”
Said Moore: “There are different variations of that. So you’re going to see a lot of it.”
The Bears, of course, want to keep giving him opportunities.
On Sunday, as Fields tried to pull himself out of being “too conservative” like he was against the Packers, there appeared to be at least a couple of plays on which Moore was open but not targeted. He clapped his hands on one of them.
But after the game, Moore was positive about the improvements Fields and the offense made.
“He got better,” Moore said. “I know he wants to be more explosive with it. He’ll probably keep working on it. As long as he has faith in all of us, we’re just going to keep grinding.”
That’s another thing Moore does well.
‘Create the future’
Moore said Tyler Scott has forgiven him, but in the moment the rookie receiver was “freaking out.”
Moore wanted to take the wide receivers out to dinner during the Bears’ preseason trip to Indianapolis. He decided to pretend it was Scott’s rookie dinner, an NFL tradition — some call it hazing — in which rookies pay for an expensive meal for the veterans.
Darnell Mooney said Moore and Fields asked the restaurant to boost the bill to more than it was, and when it was passed to Scott, it read $20,501.81. Daurice Fountain’s video on social media shows Scott staring straight-faced at the bill as teammates howled.
“He was terrified,” Moore said.
Moore footed the real bill, and Scott’s teammates got a good laugh. Scott posted video of the prank on social media the next day, saying he “love(s) my unit though.”
“He’s cool now,” Moore said. “He’s good.”
The first thing coaches and teammates say about Moore’s personality is that he’s quiet. Tolbert said Moore doesn’t “hardly talk at all.” Safety Eddie Jackson called him the “silent assassin.”
But he also has a funny side, Mooney said.
“I’m not really a rah-rah guy, but I’m low-key funny and easy to get along with,” Moore said. “I don’t really cause a ruckus or want to have a ruckus around my locker-room presence.”
That may not be the prototypical leader for an NFL locker room, but Moore’s teammates voted him one of four captains for this season along with Fields, Jackson and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Moore, who said during training camp his idea of nice downtime involves “watching movies, eating popcorn, being a regular person,” is comfortable being himself in that role.
“I speak up when it’s needed, but most of the time I just let my actions do the talking and a lot of people follow behind that,” he said. “That’s probably one of the loudest ways I can lead and be a captain for this team.”
Coaches embrace that approach.
When offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was asked why Moore has been able to connect with so many quarterbacks over the years, he said talent is of course a reason but also the mentality, work ethic and time spent with a quarterback.
“You tell him to do something, he’ll do it — whatever it is,” Tolbert said. “DJ, go back and catch some punts. OK. DJ, go block this guy. OK. DJ, go play corner while the other guys run. OK. He’ll jump over there and do it. He don’t say much. He goes over there and does his job.”
But don’t mistake the quiet, agreeable nature for someone who doesn’t have a purpose.
Moore’s purpose is literally written on his body.
He has a collage of tattoos, including a nod to his home city featuring the Philadelphia skyline. One tattoo reads, “Respect the past, create the future.” To Moore, it means honoring the people who came before him and then forging his own legacy with his team.
“That guy is a competitive animal,” Getsy said. “He’s quiet, but he plays hard and he practices hard and he’s a great teammate. He holds himself accountable. When he makes a mistake, he’s the first person to go into that huddle and say, ‘That’s my bad. I was wrong.’ All that stuff stands out for the kind of man that he is.”
When asked what drives him, Moore paused for a moment before starting with his two children: a newborn son and a 3-year-old daughter who became a star of Bears social media in the preseason when the team mic’d her up. The fun of the game was next on Moore’s list. And then his teammates.
“The locker room is what drives you to continue on,” Moore said. “That’s the biggest thing that I feel like everybody across the league would probably say, the locker room. They always want to do the best for the person next to them.”
It’s an anti-diva answer and one that fits with what the Bears observed over the last few months.
As they try to dig themselves out of the 0-2 hole Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Moore will be right there, shovel — and hopefully the football — in hand.