Chicago Bears first-round offensive lineman Kyle Long is not working out with the team during offseason training activities (OTAs), but that's not by choice. The NFL collective bargaining agreement states no player may practice with his team beyond rookie minicamp until that year's class schedule has concluded. Oregon works on a quarterly system and Long won't be finished with classes until late next week. He said last month he wants to be with his teammates but he has no choice than to finalize his schoolwork.
The same can't be said for 2011 first-round offensive lineman Gabe Carimi, who made a conscious decision not work with his teammates during OTAs. Instead, he's been working out privately with LeCharles Bentley in Arizona. We are told Carimi doesn't trust Chicago's training staff after they mishandled his knee injury the past two years.
OTAs are voluntary, so Carimi isn't doing anything wrong technically. And according to GM Phil Emery, the club isn't holding any grudges.
"Gabe is doing what he feels is best for Gabe and I think I've said it in the past, we'll welcome him with open arms when he comes," Emery said. "I look forward to seeing how he's doing."
Mandatory minicamp starts next week, which as its name suggests, is not a voluntary affair. If Carimi skips the three-day practice session, he'll incur a fine of more than $66,000. That might be just the type of incentive to finally get him back in the Windy City, although he's yet to make his intentions clear to Bears brass.
"That'll be up to Gabe. You might want to ask him that," said Emery. "I'm assuming that he will be. Certainly he wants to play and wants to play well. I think that's why he's approached his training that way. Those are questions only Gabe can answer."
Carimi is coming off a horrible season in which he was one of the league leaders amongst offensive tackles in sacks and pressures allowed until he was benched in Week 12. A four-year starter at left tackle for Wisconsin and winner of the Outland Trophy his senior season, that was not the type of performance Chicago expected out of Carimi when the organization drafted him with the 29th overall pick two years ago.
Carimi didn't stay on the bench for long, as injuries forced him to start three games down the stretch at right guard, a position he had never before played. When asked during minicamp last month where he sees Carimi playing, new head coach Marc Trestman was very clear.
"Guard," he said. "We're going to focus in on him competing at the guard position."
When asked if Carimi was pouting because he's not going to get a chance to play tackle this year, Emery was adamant in his defense.
"I will say with 100 percent conviction that Gabe never demonstrated or vocalized any disappointment," Emery said. "He's a competitor and he wants to continue to compete. He's done what he's felt is in his best interests to put himself in that position, and we're going to honor that."
While Carimi might be healthier for staying in Arizona the past month, he has surely set himself back in terms of learning Trestman's offense and the new zone-blocking schemes being installed by offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. The Bears will enter training camp next month with a gaggle of offensive linemen and the competition for seven roster spots will be fierce. Carimi is behind every one of his O-line teammates and is far from a lock to make this year's roster.
If he were in Lake Forest right now working with the new coaching staff, Carimi may have only needed a B- performance in training camp to make the final 53. Yet his recent absences, excused or not excused, mean he'll likely need to put forth an A performance in Bourbonnais this summer if he expects to have a job in 2013.
"We'd like all our players to be here but Gabe made a decision that was best for Gabe so every individual player has to make those decisions," said Emery. "[OTA] is voluntary and we're going to respect that and we're going to respect Gabe in his decisions."
There's obviously respect from Emery's side but we'll soon find out how much patience there is from Trestman regarding the only player on his roster who chose not to show up for OTAs. If Carimi falters, he will have dug his own grave.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.