Initial Reaction: Gabe Carimi

The Bears went into the draft looking to upgrade the offensive line. Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi slipped farther than most analysts expected and landed right in Chicago's lap.

It was the moment Minnesota chose former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick that offensive tackle Gabe Carimi became a real possibility for the Chicago Bears.

Heading into the draft, it was clear Chicago was targeting one of seven offensive linemen with the 29th overall pick in the draft – Anthony Castonzo, Tyron Smith, Mike Pouncey, Nate Solder, Danny Watkins, Derek Sherrod and Carimi. Whether or not any of them would fall to the Bears remained to be seen.

The Ponder pick finished off an unprecedented run of four quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks. There had only been one offensive lineman – Smith – chosen up to that point. In a first round lauded for its wealth of defensive-line talent, having six of its seven top offensive targets still on the board at 13 was a good sign for the Bears.

"I thought that when I saw the quarterbacks go the way they did – we had heard that it could happen and it did – I said ‘well that is going to make it a lot easier in terms of the numbers,'" said GM Jerry Angelo.

When it came time for Chicago to make its selection, it had both Carimi and Sherrod to choose from. Looking to bolster its run game, the Bears chose Carimi.

"As it got closer to our pick, we were getting a little bit more excited that the chance of him being there was a real possibility," offensive line coach Mike Tice said. "We were real fortunate that he was there."

T Gabe Carimi
Jerry Lai/US Presswire

Some have called Baltimore's selection of former Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith the best value pick in the first round. Yet for my money, I'll take Carimi, who was expected by most analysts to come off the board before pick 20 and doesn't carry the baggage, as Smith does, of multiple failed drugs test and alcohol arrests. He also didn't show up to his pro day out of shape.

Carimi (6-7, 314) was the Outland Trophy Award winner last season, given annually to the top offensive lineman in the country. He's a four-year starter who only missed three games in his collegiate career due to injury. In 2010, he was a unanimous All-American and All-Big Ten selection.

"He's been an outstanding player at Wisconsin for four years," said Tice. "He's gotten better every year. He's gotten tougher every year too."

His biggest strength is in the run game, where he can be an absolute mauler at times. He's a physical, mean blocker – the anti-Chris Williams if you will. He explodes off the ball and uses a wide base and above-average strength to drive defenders out of the hole. He has very strong hands and does well locating and engaging linebackers at the second level.

"Wisconsin, that's their trademark with offensive linemen," Angelo said. "They're very physical; they're very run-oriented, very similar to a Midwestern philosophy and somewhat similar to ours."

Carimi played left tackle for Wisconsin. At the Senior Bowl, he slid inside to guard and held his own, but tackle is where most see him playing. On the left side, his height can be used against him. He too often is off-balance because he leans and lunges to recover, rather than sliding or shifting. If he can fix these problems, he could turn into a decent left tackle. But he'll most likely start on the right side where his abilities in the run game can be utilized to the fullest.

"I think he's an outside player, personally," said Tice. "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."

From a mindset standpoint, Carimi does not lack confidence. At the Scouting Combine it quickly became clear he thought very highly of his game and how it would translate to the next level.

"Because of the players I've gone against, four potential first-round players [Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan and teammate J.J. Watt] this year, I have a better résumé of going against better talent than anyone else, so that makes me more [pro-]ready," he said. "I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there."

The Bears obviously agreed.

"Film doesn't lie," said Tice. "He'll bring everything that we're looking to bring to the offensive line room: toughness, intelligence, size."

With only journeyman Frank Omiyale and second-year player J'Marcus Webb ahead of him on the depth chart, expect Carimi to earn a starting spot before the season opener. He is a big-time talent with tremendous upside. Chicago's coaching staff will give him every opportunity to succeed.

How the rest of the offensive line shakes out remains to be seen. But unless all the talent evaluators throughout the NFL failed, Carimi should be an anchor on the edge for the next decade. The front office hit a homerun with this pick.

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider

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