Inside the DJ Moore ripple effect for the Bears: ‘I just love the way he works’

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Early in Chicago Bears training camp, rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson was on the receiving end of everything the Bears’ best receiver had to offer.

In one-on-one drills, DJ Moore beat him.

In seven-on-sevens, DJ Moore beat him.

In team drills, DJ Moore beat him.

“You know what? Good for him,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams told The Athletic early in camp. “That’s what he’s going to see each week. DJ is a No. 1 receiver.”

There wasn’t a singular “Welcome to the NFL” moment for Stevenson but a full range of NFL-caliber experiences.

“Honestly, there’s no bad in it,” Stevenson said then. “I feel like it’s always good. After every route or whenever I catch DJ, I kind of ask him some questions like, ‘What are you looking for?’ … It’s a good thing to have some vets to go against to be able to take some notes. Because at the end of day, it’s a team sport.”

There’s no questioning that the Bears are a better team in 2023 because Moore is on their roster — the result of a blockbuster trade involving the first pick in the NFL Draft by general manager Ryan Poles.

Moore was a headliner throughout camp, but Stevenson became one, too, from his trash-talking with receiver Chase Claypool, to igniting a melee with the Colts with a resounding hit on special teams to ending his preseason with an interception against the Bills.

Stevenson left camp as he should have: as a noteworthy starter.

He improved by facing Moore.

“It’s preparing him for what he’s going to see every week,” Williams said. “Sometimes he wins. Sometimes he doesn’t. But they’re game reps from him, so that experience is invaluable.”

Consider that part of the DJ Moore ripple effect. His presence is felt everywhere.

During one of the most incredible plays of the 2022 NFL season, quarterback P.J. Walker saw two defenders slow down in their coverage on Moore as the star receiver decreased his pace.

Walker knew he had them beat.

“I know his speed,” Walker said before the Bears released him last week. “His pickup speed’s a lot faster than their pickup speed.”

Bombs away.

It came in Week 8 of last season for the Carolina Panthers. Walker let loose a pass from Carolina’s 35-yard line and Moore made a diving catch against Falcons safety Dean Marlowe and linebacker Rashaan Evans a few steps into the end zone. The touchdown tied the game with 12 seconds left, though the Panthers lost in overtime.

“I ain’t looking for him,” Walker said “But I feel he’s down there.”

When he did see him, Walker knew what he had.

“Oh, man, that’s something I’ve seen over the past couple of years,” Walker said. “It’s just giving him an opportunity to make these plays. I’ve seen him making them over a ton of guys.”

That’s part of the DJ Moore effect.

It’s real. Bears quarterback Justin Fields benefits from it now.

“When you put it up in the air, he’s going to find the football,” said Walker, now on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad. “He can go out there and make a play for you.”

It’s something that Walker knows well after being Moore’s teammate for the last three seasons with the Panthers. They’re close friends. Family comes first for Moore. Forget the spotlight.

“Everything that you see him do, it’d be for his kids, for sure,” Walker said. “Like all the celebrations and all the stuff that he does on the field, that’s going to be for his kids. He’s definitely one of those dudes who goes out there and he plays for his family and plays for his teammates.”

Their relationship dates to college when Walker attempted to recruit Moore to Temple. The Owls wanted Moore to play safety. Moore went to Maryland as a receiver.

“When he was in high school, he played everything: running back, receiver, a bunch of stuff,” Walker said. “They just liked his body physique for him to play safety at that level. He was a hell of a player.”

He still is. Walker knows that better than anyone who has been through Halas Hall over the past year. Moore’s seemingly instant chemistry with Fields didn’t surprise Walker.

“I’ve seen him do things that were out of the ordinary for a receiver because he’s smart,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that can see coverages. He knows what he’s getting on the football field. So when you get a guy like that, it makes the transition really easy for a quarterback like Justin.”


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In 2014, Eberflus was in his fourth season as the Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers coach when receiver Dez Bryant scored 16 touchdowns — a career best after scoring 12 and 13, respectively, in the previous two seasons. He saw firsthand in practice and in games what Bryant meant to quarterback Tony Romo and a loaded Dallas offense.

“There are some similarities there,” Eberflus said during a recent interview with The Athletic. “Dez was a big strong guy, who’s just like DJ. DJ’s strong. He’s got strong hands; he’s strong through the catch. He can use his body to stay open because of that strength. And when you have a guy that you can go to like that, it’s so important because the quarterback can rely on that.

“And a lot of times what happens is when you have a guy like that, the coverage will shift, or they’ll put a player on him that’s probably their best player, if they’re going to be singled up, and then that creates opportunities for everybody else, either through the coverage shift or through the personnel shift to that guy.”

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DJ Moore is a quiet guy, but his play has spoken loudly since he joined the Bears via trade. (Scott Boehm / Associated Press)

Moore is one of those players.

Eberflus would know. It’s part of the DJ Moore problem.

Eberflus had a plan in place for Moore and the Panthers on Dec. 22, 2019, as the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator. A week earlier, Moore had eight catches for 113 yards in a loss against the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers weren’t a good team, but Moore was a 1,000-yard receiver in his second season.

“We knew he was a special player,” Eberflus said. “And he needed to have some attention. If you’re giving him attention by putting a good guy on him or our best player on him or a player over the top, we had a plan for him.”

Moore, though, played only six snaps. He left the game with a concussion. He finished with one catch for 1 yard on the third play from scrimmage.

“We just kind of shifted back to our normal sets and our normal alignments because of his absence in that game,” Eberflus said. “It certainly helped us. I’m pretty sure we won that game.”

The Colts did. They ran away with a 38-6 victory.

Years later, Eberflus and Williams, who was the Colts’ defensive backs coach at the time, experienced what they planned for in practices at Halas Hall.

“Sometimes when we’re right because (the receiver’s) mechanics are good and they are talented guys, sometimes you may not win the rep, even when you’re right,” Williams said early in camp. “And sometimes that’s what happens in the ballgame. You line up right, you execute, you do your technique and they make a play.”

Moore did exactly that throughout camp. The Bears know Moore will be a problem for opposing defenses because he was a problem for theirs.

“You don’t want to let that guy get a bunch of catches where he’s very impactful in the game, because, of course, he’s always going to be impactful on the game, somehow, some way,” Eberflus said. “But you want to try to minimize that risk.”

But that opens up more for other players. Eberflus saw that in Dallas, too. The Cowboys had Jason Witten, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams; the Bears have Cole Kmet, Darnell Mooney and Claypool. The Cowboys ran the ball well with DeMarco Murray; the Bears want to establish their identity by running the ball.

“To me,” Eberflus said, “it’s invaluable to have a guy that can call that attention on himself.”



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In the Bears’ wide receivers room at Halas Hall, Moore is quiet.

The same is true when he plays.

“I want him to be him,” receivers coach/pass game coordinator Tyke Tolbert said. “He got here by being him. So don’t change.”

But everything Moore physically does on the field is, well, loud. It makes you pay attention.

“DJ don’t talk hardly at all,” Tolbert said. “He has a quiet demeanor. You tell him to do something he’ll do it. Whatever it is. ‘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.”

Everyone watches him do that job as a receiver. Some try to learn from it.

“On the field, the one thing I’ve noticed is just the way he mirrors his routes,” rookie receiver Tyler Scott said. “He’s really good at making you think one thing and doing another. The one thing about receiving that I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that it’s all about putting on a good act, and he does a good job at putting on a good act.”

It’s a skill some receivers never learn regardless of how fast or how athletic they are. The best receivers make route running an art form.

“What’s impressive about DJ — and there’s some really good receivers in the league that are like this, too — they take that craft of route running to a different level,” Eberflus said. “Their precision and detail is so good. They really take everything to heart. They literally want a number of routes to look exactly the same. And it might be four different routes. This certain stem and how I climb on this route looks exactly like three other routes or four other routes, and they have that off varying routes that they run.”

It’s not easy to do. But Scott is trying.

It’s part of that DJ Moore influence — even if he’s not aware of it.

“That’s the one thing that I’ve tried to take is just kind of mirroring those things up because that just puts the DB on his toes,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, they don’t know where you’re going, and if you make things look the same, now they’re just guessing.”

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy praised Moore for his cool when the ball is in the air.

“It’s just having the patience to let the ball come to you and not let the DB know that the ball’s right there until it’s already caught,” Getsy said. “You can see those in him. It’s been fun to let the young guys kind of learn that from him.”

Defensive backs have their reads and look for tells. Moore excels at eliminating them.

“He knows where the ball is going to be coming out of a break, based off a defense where Justin’s going to put the ball at,” Scott said. “Or when he catches the ball, just knowing angles of the DBs and where they’re coming from, it’s almost like he plays in slow motion when I watch the film, but he’s really just a step ahead of everyone else.”

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The Bears hope DJ Moore’s instant chemistry with Justin Fields, center talking with NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt, will pay immediate dividends. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

T.J. Edwards has been here before. The Bears linebacker knows what it’s like to be part of a team that just acquired a talented but overlooked receiver in a blockbuster trade.

It happened on April 28, 2022, with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We just got A.J. Brown!” Edwards remembered, his excitement and emotion returning.

“He walks into the building — and that’s another big dude. Another just specimen. He’s a freak — a dude who can do everything, run by you, run good routes, run after the catch.”

Players know first. They know what players can do and what they can’t. They know what special looks and feels like. They know what’s real.

Ten months after the Eagles traded for Brown, they were playing in the Super Bowl. Brown established career highs, earned his second Pro Bowl honor and became a second-team All-Pro. Better yet, quarterback Jalen Hurts took the next step in his development with Brown and entered the MVP discussion.

“Then you see it in DJ,” Edwards said. “There’s some similarities (with Brown). He comes here and he can do it all, man. He’s making catches down the field. He’s taking slants a long way after the catch. He’s a guy who I think has been underrated in this league. I’m excited for him and the offense in general.”

The slant that Edwards referenced came in the middle of camp against the Bears’ starting defense. No one touched him.

That’s part of the DJ Moore vibe. He’s different.

“I think he has had just an impact on the organization,” quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “I mean when you bring a good player in and they make plays, that’s fun to watch. That’s having confidence in somebody that goes out and makes plays for you and that you can trust where that guy is going to be where he needs to be. And even if that throw is a little bit off, that he is going to help you, that’s huge.”

The Bears defense saw that from Moore immediately during OTAs.

A couple of deep balls from Fields were enough.

“We’re all just like, ‘Man, appreciate your teammates,’” Edwards said. “That’s what you want on your team. Our defense gets to go against him every day. He’s only going to make our corners better, our DBs, our back seven and our whole team better. He’s just a guy who’s confident, man. He knows what to do. He knows what type of player he is.”

Stevenson, fellow rookie Terell Smith and veteran Jaylon Johnson dealt with Moore the most practice throughout camp. Eberflus loved it.

“Because of the elite skill set that he has and the body control and the different speeds and the RPMs (real plus/minus) that he runs at, he’s a hard cover,” Eberflus said. “Nothing but good things are going to happen by covering a guy like that every day. It’s just a way to really enhance your skill, to sharpen your skill and take your skill to the next level if you’re covering a guy like that.”

Everyone knows what happened on Moore’s first catch in a Bears uniform. He turned a quick screen into a 62-yard touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in the preseason opener.

“I got there just in time, and he went right around and scored a touchdown — made magic happen,” left tackle Braxton Jones said. “It’s just nice to have a guy like that who can make explosive plays.”

More than a week later, Jones still was surprised it happened. He expected the back-side defenders to recover and get Moore after he and guard Teven Jenkins made their blocks.

The Titans didn’t, though. Jones knows better now.

“He’s so fast and gets in and out of there,” Jones said. “I look back and I try to finish my guy one more time to the ground and then I look back and he’s already near the touchdown.”

And that’s all part of the DJ Moore excitement. He still surprised the Bears with what he did.

In the Bears’ final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Moore caught a pass over the middle, broke three tackles and finished with a 40-yard catch-and-run.

“His acceleration is better than I thought,” Eberflus said. “And then his change of speed, his start and stop is really good. He can go from a very high RPMs down to almost a stop; he can stop on a dime. And then also pick up that speed right away. So that’s what’s really hard. He can vary the RPMs. And he can do that at a fast rate, with his ability to start and stop on a dime.”

The Bears measure all of that.

His presence should make things easier for Fields and Getsy. In June, Fields described Moore’s body language as easy to read on the field. In July, Poles said on the “Hoge & Jahns” podcast that Moore can be “duct tape” for Fields. This week, Eberflus called Moore an elite competitor. There’s not much loafing on his film, if any.

“I just love the way he works,” Eberflus said. “I just can’t tell you that enough. I just really do. I think it’s a great example for our football team. And it’s a great example for offense, defense, kicking. It’s really for everybody.”

(Top photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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