Another in a periodic series examining the roles of NFC North newcomers.
Gabe Carimi started 49 games at left tackle during his career at Wisconsin. He is 6-foot-7, has 35-inch arms (and we all know how important arm length is) and has the intelligence to recognize complex NFL blitz packages.
It all sounds like a perfect combination to crown him the Bears' long-term answer at left tackle.
Game. Set. Match.
For a number of reasons, Carimi's short- and long-term destinations fall somewhere short of certain. The Bears' offensive line remains an unfinished puzzle, and in the immediate aftermath of the draft, coach Lovie Smith wouldn't even commit to whether Carimi will play tackle or guard. Offensive line coach Mike Tice acknowledged it is more likely that Carimi ends up playing tackle -- "I think he's an outside player, personally," Tice said -- but made clear that the full picture won't be visible for a while.
"We do want to keep our options open," Tice said. "I've been known to move guys around a little bit. We want to ... figure out what's going on with some of our players that are free agents and get to that part of the offseason also. ... We'll make sure that the day that he walks into the building and we put him in a spot that that's going to be the spot that he's going to play at for many years to come we hope. So we'll work our way through that."
Let's stop the insanity right now.
Unless the Bears sign a veteran free agent specifically to play left tackle, Carimi has to be the guy. The alternative is moving Carimi to right tackle and choosing a left tackle from a group that includes J'Marcus Webb, Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams. But left tackle is one of the most difficult positions to fill in the NFL. There aren't many players equipped to do it, and if you have three possibilities on your returning roster, the reality is probably none of them are up to the job. To massage the old cliche: If you have three left tackles, you've got none.
Don't take my word for it. I reached out to Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who has been highly critical of the Bears' offensive line personnel all offseason. He and I are on the same page: Based on the Bears' current personnel, Carimi is the best option for left tackle. In the long-term, Carimi might ultimately be a better right tackle. But if Carimi proves to be the Bears' best tackle, doesn't he have to be placed on quarterback Jay Cutler's blind side?
"It is a tough puzzle right now full of bad football players," Williamson said. "There isn't a right answer right now and I still think they need to find at least one more starter in free agency and probably bring back [center Olin] Kreutz. ... Carimi needs to be a starter and as of right now, he would be my left tackle. But the fact that Carimi can play either tackle spot is certainly something of value."
Smith has mentioned Webb as a left tackle candidate a number of times, but Williamson isn't on board.
"He was a seventh-round starter by default last season and played terrible," Williamson said. "Because he is young, people treat him like he is some sort of up-and-coming star. I didn't see any reason to believe that -- or that he could handle left tackle."
In any other year, we could be having a more definitive discussion about where the Bears' first-round draft choice would open the season. The lockout has delayed free agency, and it's fair to assume the Bears are not done acquiring linemen. We also don't know whether the Bears will re-sign Kreutz or who would replace him if they don't. (Smith ominously noted that Williams has some center experience in February at the scouting combine.)
Without knowing what will happen with free agency, Williamson would stack the Bears' line this way if training camp started today:
LG: Williams or Omiyale
RG: Roberto Garza
RT: Webb or Omiyale
Tice's documented history of developing offensive lines gives him some leeway here. Some observers will note Carimi's dogged run blocking and wonder if he might project best as a right tackle. If Tice comes to the same conclusion, perhaps he would be justified in locking him in at right tackle from the start rather than continue the Bears' recent history of routinely flipping their linemen.
But the only way Tice can safely make that decision is if a viable left tackle option emerges. Williamson doesn't think Webb or Omiyale should be trusted with it. Williams has already played three different positions since the Bears selected him in the first round of the 2008 draft. On May 18, at least, it sure looks like Carimi is the top candidate.
Earlier: The Detroit Lions needed an explosive receiver like Titus Young. The Bears think defensive tackle Stephen Paea can be a disruptive force, not just a space-eater. The Green Bay Packers passed on a more highly-touted Arizona defensive end/linebacker and ultimately selected the Wildcats' Ricky Elmore in the sixth round.