Point 1: Carimi on comeback trail
It's not as if 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi has become a forgotten man, but it seems like a long time since he won the starting job at right tackle during training camp of his rookie season.
Unfortunately for the Bears and the 6-foot-7, 316-pound Carimi, the former University of Wisconsin star lasted less than two games before a dislocated kneecap resulted in two surgeries and a lost season. The 29th overall pick in last year's draft is slowly working his way back, participating on a limited basis in organized team activity practices but hoping to be back to full strength by training camp.
"I'm just trying to get in and see how it is with the OTAs and then reassess," Carimi told reporters in Chicago after Wednesday's practice. "It's going to be a constant reassessment, but it feels pretty good and the trainers are happy with my progress and the coaches are too. So, we're just going to keep on trucking along here."
Carimi's play was impressive enough a year ago for the Bears to think they had a cornerstone on the offensive line for the next decade. But he almost feels like he's starting all over again.
"I want to go back out there and actually get a (full) season in," he said. "I feel like I have to get back out there and prove myself again."
Having missed just three games at Wisconsin, Carimi was unaccustomed to the inactivity of a serious injury, and he admits there were some down times, but he's confident that's in the past.
"There were points where you're just like, 'Is this ever going to get better?'" he said. "But obviously, it has. I feel great now. I'm looking forward to being able to come out this year and help out wherever I can."
If Carimi returns to the player he was before his injury, it will go a long way toward the Bears improving what was their weakest position a year ago. But questions will remain until the knee is tested in game-type situations.
"You're never going to know until you get the pads back on," he said. "That's when I'm going to know. This is never going to get tested in OTAs, (in) shorts and jerseys. But, if I've come this far in six months, with two months (until training camp), there's no way I'm not going to feel strong."
Point 2: More line dancing
No position is more uncertain than left tackle, where J'Marcus Webb started all 16 games and yielded 12 sacks — second-most in the league — and an NFL-high 14 penalties.
Chris Williams took the first snap with the first team at left tackle in Wednesday's OTA practice, but Webb also worked with the ones. Webb said he considers himself the starter, but he knows he will have to fight for the job.
"Whatever they decide, I'm going to go full on with it," he said. "At the same time, when it's time to kick some ass, I'm going to."
Williams was drafted in the first round (14th overall) in 2008 as the left tackle of the future. But he missed the first half of his rookie season after suffering a back injury early in training camp and played sparingly the second half of the season without making any starts.
He started all 16 games in 2009, 11 at right tackle and five at left tackle. After two starts at left tackle in 2010, he was moved to left guard, where he started 11 games, and where he opened the season last year. After nine starts, he suffered a dislocated left wrist.
Now Williams is back where he began and eventually failed.
The competition — and who will get a night's worth of Matthews — may not be decided until late in training camp.
"I feel good about it," said Webb, a seventh-round pick who started 12 games at right tackle in 2010 as a rookie. "I'm working hard on my footwork and my hands (placement), and I definitely feel that a competitive side of it will come in training camp, and I'm happy to be back out here."
Point 3: History lesson
After the Bears won four straight at Lambeau Field from 2004 through 2007, the Packers have won the last four matchups in Green Bay. That's Green Bay's longest home winning streak against the Bears since Brett Favre and Co. tamed the Monsters of the Midway six consecutive years from 1993 through 1998.
The teams have met 184 times in the regular season, with the Bears owning a 91-85-6 edge.
Point 4: Hot on Hester
New offensive coordinator Mike Tice's plan to include a Devin Hester Package within the scheme is not a novel idea.
Since the speedy wide receiver converted from cornerback in 2007, Tice's predecessors, Mike Martz and Ron Turner, endeavored to utilize Hester's unique skills. Or at least they said they would.
But Hester's catches and yardage have declined in each of the past two seasons, and even in his most productive season (2009), he had a modest 57 catches for 757 yards. In five years at receiver, Hester has 13 touchdown catches. By contrast, Green Bay's Jordy Nelson had 15 touchdowns last year alone.
Nonetheless, Tice seems like he means it.
"Mike's really dwelling on this Hester Package," Hester said. "I truly think that Mike and (quarterbacks coach) Jeremy (Bates) really do want to put this in this year. I'm looking forward to it."
Hester will turn 30 in November, which seems almost unbelievable until you consider how many years he's been tormenting the Packers on special teams. His numbers have never approached those of a No. 1 receiver, although he has been touted as such in the past by coach Lovie Smith. In 11 career games against Green Bay, Hester has caught just 12 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown. It might surprise you that Hester has averaged just 21.1 yards per kickoff return with a long of 35. On punts, however, he's averaged 14.5 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Point 5: Offensive offense cured?
Speaking of Hester, he predicted the Bears' offense would be "very explosive" this season.
That would be a change.
For what seems like an eternity, Chicago's offense has had as much juice as a slice of stale bread. When the Packers clobbered the Bears 35-21 on Christmas night, it marked Chicago's first game of more than 20 points against Green Bay since 2007. In the teams' nine matchups over the last four seasons, Green Bay is 7-2 and has held Chicago to 14.1 points per game.
Before this offseason, the Bears had done almost nothing to help Jay Cutler since acquiring the strong-armed quarterback for two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Kyle Orton before the 2009 draft. With the addition of Brandon Marshall (from Dolphins for third-round picks in 2012 and 2013) and Alshon Jeffery (second-round pick from South Carolina), the Bears theoretically have a legit No. 1 and No. 2 receiver and can use Hester in a specialized role.
Then again, Marshall has a history of being a knucklehead — not to mention his 14 drops last season, which were one off the league lead — and Jeffery weighed more than some tight ends. But, those are the kind of gambles that have to be made when you're trying to catch the Packers and Lions, two teams who figure to field elite clubs for the foreseeable future.
Point 6: Backup plan
While the Packers are steadfastly moving forward with Graham Harrell as their No. 2 quarterback — he's the only projected No. 2 quarterback in the league to have never thrown a regular-season pass — the Bears added an experienced backup in Jason Campbell.
"The most challenging thing is just having to adapt and not getting a lot of the (practice) reps," Campbell said on Wednesday. "As a starter, you get a lot of the (physical) reps, and as the backup you kind of learn mentally. Ever since I've been in the league, I was the one getting a lot of reps. So, now it's a little bit of a challenge to see how much can you learn just sitting in a classroom and putting the extra work in after practice."
Cutler has been durable for most of his career, but Campbell is well aware of how quickly a backup quarterback can become the starter. Cutler had missed just one game due to injury in his first five years in the league, but he was sidelined for the final six games last season.
"You just never know in this business," said Campbell, who started the first six games for the Raiders last season before a fractured collarbone ended his season. "Last year, there were nine starting quarterbacks that got hurt, including myself. I can't just get relaxed because you've always got to stay ready."
Point 7: Rookie watch
The Packers wanted Shea McClellin, but the Bears took the Boise State standout at No. 19 overall. Green Bay loved McClellin's versatility, with his linebacker background making him a natural fit as an outside linebacker in its 3-4 scheme. The Bears, however, want McClellin to do one thing and one thing only: rush the passer as an end in their 4-3 scheme.
"We were looking for an athlete," Smith said. "Look at who is on the other side of the ball as far as quarterbacks. They are big athletes. Look at Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, the skill-set of the new breed of quarterback. You need those types of athletes rushing to keep them pinned in."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.