Bears meet with former Badger Carimi

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Bears met with Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi on Thursday at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Sure, the meeting shouldn’t be construed as anything more than the team doing its due diligence. But team sources said from the combine that the Bears are extremely high on Carimi, winner of the 2010 Outland Trophy, awarded annually to the best interior lineman in college football.

Carimi is high on himself, too.

“I’m completely confident in my game,” Carimi said. “I really don’t have any problems. I know I’m the best tackle out there, and I just have to play like it and act like it. I know I can play right away; that’s my best asset. I’m a draft-ready tackle.”

For the Bears, that could be welcome news for a team desperately in need of a makeover on an offensive line that last season gave up a league-high 56 sacks.

Interestingly, Carimi isn’t considered to be the best offensive tackle of the draft. But most analysts rate Carimi as a mid- to late-first round prospect, meaning there’s a slight chance he could fall to the Bears, who own the 29th pick of the draft.

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Carimi as the draft’s fourth-best offensive tackle. Although he doesn’t possess the upside and athleticism of some of the other prospects such as USC’s Tyron Smith, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, who are ranked higher, Carimi is regarded by many scouts to be more NFL-ready because of his versatility, polished technique and experience against top-notch competition.

“The talent level overall is probably better than has been the past few years,” said Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman of this year’s group of offensive linemen. “It's deep. You've got some guys who are versatile, who can play tackle or play guard. The more guys that are versatile and athletic, [the better]."

One AFC scout said he could see teams trying Carimi at left tackle initially, before eventually moving him -- if he fails -- to the right side or inside to one of the guard spots. Asked about Carimi, one Bears source said, “[I] love him.”

Carimi would seem to be a potential upgrade at left tackle over veteran Frank Omiyale, who struggled at times last season to protect quarterback Jay Cutler. Technically sound for the most part because of solid coaching at Wisconsin, Carimi could improve even more working with Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, who has gained a reputation for his ability as a teacher.

“I’m physically stronger, have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any of the other tackles out the there,” Carimi said. “That’s why I’m the No. 1 tackle out there. I have a better resume of going against better talent than anyone else, so that makes me more [NFL] ready. I’ve gone against four potential first-round players [Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt (in practice) and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan].”

Carimi also seems to have pedigree on his side too, considering Wisconsin has churned out some top-flight collegiate offensive linemen in recent years (such as Thomas, Al Johnson and Chris McIntosh in the late ’90s). Carimi became a starter for the Badgers in 2007, when he replaced Joe Thomas, who was the No. 3 overall pick of the draft that year, and has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last four seasons.

Chances are Carimi won’t be available when the Bears pick at No. 29. But if he’s there, perhaps the Bears should take a chance considering they need help at tackle and guard, positions Carimi has demonstrated an ability to excel at throughout his career, and during a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.

“Obviously, I think I can play left tackle,” Carimi said. “It’s up to the organization what their needs and wants are. I can play right tackle. If they have a left tackle locked down, I’ll be a backup and left tackle, and they can put another guy at right tackle.”