49ers’ big-money hire ‘Mooney’ Ward ready to face Bears’ Darnell Mooney

Peninsula Premier Admin

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ biggest addition since last season’s playoff run could have the biggest matchup in Sunday’s season opener at Chicago.

A boxing promoter might bill it as: “Mooney vs. Mooney.”

In one corner is 49ers cornerback Mooney Ward, who prefers not to be called by his given first name, Charvarius.

In the other corner is Darnell Moody, the Bears’ leading receiver last season.

“Mooneu on Mooney, who you’ve got? Take the real Mooney, big Mooney,” Ward said with a laugh Monday at his locker. “It’s going to be fun. I haven’t played against him yet.”

After ascending the past four years with the Kansas City Chiefs, Ward brings a physical, lock-down style. Starting alongside him in the cornerback coprs will be Emmanuel Moseley and rookie nickel back Sam Womack III.

All figure at some point to face the Bears’ Mooney. He had 81 receptions for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns last season, after totaling 61-631-4 as a rookie fifth-round pick from Tulane.

“He’s versatile and they move him around a lot,” Ward said. “He’s a good route runner. He’s a complete receiver. He’s been growing as a players since he’s been in the league and I look forward to the competition.”

Ward shadowed opposing teams’ top receiver last year en route to his free agency pay day (three years, $40.5 million). Look for his 6-foot-1, 204-pound body to stick on one side in the 49ers’ scheme.

Ward started training camp strong, then a groin/hamstring issue flared up Aug. 3, and the 49ers cautiously kept him out of practice until last week.

“Against any receiver, I match up well. I’ve got the speed and the size. I weigh 204 pounds. I’ve never been this big,” Ward said. “I’m excited for the season. My confidence level has never been as high as it is now, and I feel good physically, too.”

In the Chiefs’ 13-7 win over the Packers last November, Ward helped limit Davante Adams to six catches on 14 targets for 42 yards, only 14 yards of which came again Ward’s coverage. Ward enjoys getting assigned to focus on one receiver, adding: “It keeps you locked in all game. You know you’re on the best receiver so any time that ball can be coming your way and you can’t get distracted.”

Mooney (5-11, 173 pounds) has a different style than the Bears’ former top receiver, the bigger-bodied Allen Robinson, who’s now on the Los Angeles Rams. Whereas Robinson would high point the ball and make contested catches, Mooney is “slithery” and “crafty” with the way he runs all the routes, Ward said.

Actually, that Ward-vs.-Mooney matchup is the undercard in a game more featuring 2021 first-round draft picks at quarterback: the 49ers’ Trey Lance and the Bears’ Justin Fields.

Mooney offered up a bulletin-board quote earlier this week in noting how Fields is looking to avenge getting drafted No. 11 while Lance went No. 3. Mooney told Chicago-area reporters Monday about Fields: “He’s going to shine for sure. He’s going to blossom. He’s going to prove everything that everybody doubted him on – especially Week 1. That team (the 49ers) passed on him. So, they’re going to have to pay a little bit for that.”

Ward and the 49ers’ secondary will be without safety Jimmie Ward, whose hamstring injury last month has him out at least the first four games on Injured Reserve. Helping compensate for Ward’s absence, aside from potential replacements George Odum and Tarvarius Moore, will be a pass rush headlined by Nick Bosa.

“We have a great defensive line,” Ward said. “(Receivers) have to have time to do double moves, and the quarterback has to be able to step up into the pocket. Even if (receivers) beat a cornerback, they still have to throw and catch the ball. We have good recovery speed.”

Asked last week for clarification on his name preference, Ward responded: “It’s like ‘Mooney’ with two ‘O’s’ — ‘M-O-O-N-E-Y. Big Mooney. Big Mooney.’ “

Fast forward to this Sunday, to which Ward says: “It’s game time, now. Do you believe in us?”

Contributed by local news sources

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