It's been a slow recovery for Chicago Bears offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. He underwent three surgeries after dislocating his right knee in Week 2 last year, keeping him out of the remainder of the campaign. He participated in the last two weeks of OTAs this offseason on a limited basis, then suffered a setback at the beginning of training camp.
Yet for the past month, he's been full go on the practice field and during the preseason games. He said yesterday that the knee is healthy and he's ready to play in Week 1.
"I feel good about it," said Carimi. "I don't think much about it. I have to warm up a little bit more, but besides that, I don't think much about it."
Yet despite his professed confidence, coordinator Mike Tice painted a different picture after practice.
"He's going to take a while to be up to full speed. I don't think he's all the way back yet," Tice said. "The endurance in his leg is going to come with game time. If he gets tired, we have other guys, Chris, that can go and spell him if we have to."
During training camp, it was obvious Carimi was bothered by the knee. He looked hesitant and lacked good lateral agility. I often saw him adjusting the brace or walking awkwardly back to the huddle. So it wasn't a surprise to hear Tice question the health of his best offensive lineman.
"I'm anxious to see him play," said Tice. "I thought he came on real well at the end of preseason, really was run-blocking well toward the end of preseason and his pass protection has gotten better. I'm excited to see how he matures as a player, how he grows. He's a big part of what we're trying to do and what we're trying to be."
A lot of attention this offseason has been placed on the left tackle competition and how well the offensive line will pass protect this season. Yet where Carimi is most valuable is in the run game, an area in which Chicago's offense struggled mightily during the preseason.
If Carimi isn't fully healthy, or needs more time to get into game shape, it's unlikely the run game will improve.
A one-dimensional offense puts QB Jay Cutler at risk, as it allows the opposing pass rushers to pin their ears bac without having to worry about the threat of the run. That scenario would certainly hurt the Bears this Sunday, as the Colts boast two of the game's best edge rushers in Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
"Both of those guys can make plays, and both of those guys have to be accounted for," said Tice.
If Carimi struggles, those two will have a serious impact in the preseason opener. So while everyone obsesses relentlessly over left tackle J'Marcus Webb, the bigger issue could be on the other side of the offensive line.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.