Over a five-day span last week, the Chicago Bears lost three starting offensive linemen. Starting left guard Chilo Rachal walked out on the team after he was demoted. Chris Spencer then stepped in at left guard but he was knocked out of Sunday's contest against the Minnesota Vikings with a knee injury. His return could be a long way off.
At right guard, the club's best offensive lineman, Lance Louis, was also injured last week. After taking a questionable hit to the head from Vikings DE Jared Allen, Louis tore his ACL and is done for the season.
As a result, Gabe Carimi, who has played offensive tackle his entire career, was inserted at right guard, with Edwin Williams taking over at left guard.
Carimi started the club's first 10 games of the season this year but he struggled mightily in pass protection. After suffering a dislocated knee last year, which cost him almost all of his rookie season, Carimi has yet to regain his pre-injury form. As a result, he was demoted before the Vikings matchup in favor of Jonathan Scott.
"To get set down like that, I think it was tough on him at first," Jay Cutler said. "I talked to him, coach Tice talked to him, I'm sure some other guys talked to him and we felt like he just needed a little bit of break. The NFL's weird like that. You never know when it's going to happen. A guy goes down, now he's back in at guard. It wasn't too long before he got back in there."
OL Gabe Carimi
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Coordinator Mike Tice said Carimi took the demotion with class.
"He came to me and acted with great maturity," said Tice. "Of course [he wasn't] happy that he got sat down for a little bit. But I told him, ‘Hey, you got to keep yourself ready.' Originally, he was disappointed. But he bounced back. He understood, this is a business, and when performance isn't up to expectation, or up to a winning level, then changes have to be made. And that's how it goes."
Because his teammates kept dropping like flies, Carimi was only benched for a little more than one half of play.
"I'm glad he kept in a good mind frame and went in there and did a nice job," Tice said. "He looked good."
The Bears signed Andre Gurode yesterday, a 12-year veteran who has experience at both guard and center in the NFL. Yet for the time being, Carimi will be staying at right guard.
"Yeah. As of now, that's where [I'm playing]," Carimi said today. "I'm just in there to help out wherever I can."
Carimi's only experience at guard came during a brief stint at the Senior Bowl last season, although he said that did nothing to prepare him for his current challenge.
"Didn't help at all," he said. "That was more of a joke. I practiced two days. I didn't have any schemes or anything when I did that. It was very basic. We're doing an NFL offense now."
The positional shift should be made easier for Carimi lining up next to right tackle Jonathan Scott, a seven-year veteran.
"I think he's definitely ready for it because of the simple fact that he has the tenacity to play the game," Scott said today. "We all know what everyone else knows. I know what the guards do. The guards know what the tackles do and vice versa. It will be a challenge, but I have a lot confidence knowing that he'll be in there."
Carimi played very well at guard on Sunday, showing good explosion in the run game. As a "phone-booth" blocker, he looks like a natural. In addition, playing at guard will mask his lack of lateral agility, which was killing him out on an island at right tackle. The hope is that he'll be able to transition seamlessly inside.
"Everything's quicker," Carimi said. "Steps are different. You have to pass [defenders] off differently. There's a lot of different things with it."
The biggest challenge for the new front five is developing chemistry amongst a group that has three players who weren't starting at their current positions two weeks ago.
"The biggest thing is that we can work together, communicate," said Scott. "In any relationship, you've got to communicate. If you don't, it's not going to work. I'm sure and I'm more than positive that we'll communicate and we'll get calls out, we'll relay things and it's not going to be an issue."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.