Chicago Bears first round draft choice Gabe Carimi holds a Bears jersey after during an NFL news conference at Halas Hall on Saturday, April 30, 2011 in Lake Forest, Ill.(AP Photo/Charles Cherney)
Updated: May 30, 2012 4:58PM
A day after returning to on-field practice for the first time since November, Gabe Carimi was back on the sidelines for Wednesday’s offseason practice at Halas Hall.
No big deal, said the second-year right tackle, who missed the final 14 games of his rookie season after suffering a partially dislocated right kneecap in Week 2.
‘‘[The knee] felt great,’’ Carimi said after the Bears’ completed the sixth of their 10 offseason workouts. ‘‘I woke up and it felt great, but we always had a plan that we weren’t going to practice [Wednesday], so I get to come out [Thursday] and get to do what I did on Tuesday.’’
The Bears are expecting Carimi to be healthy enough to reclaim his starting right tackle position in time for the 2012 season. In fact, they’re counting on the Wisconsin product to be the key ‘‘upgrade’’ for an offensive line that was considered subpar in 2011.
But after a ‘‘setback’’ following a week of practice in November that required surgery on his knee, Carimi is easing his way back. He said he did between 50 percent and 75 percent of the work in Tuesday’s ‘‘organized team activity’’ [OTA].
‘‘We’re taking it slow right now,’’ Carimi said. ‘‘But it’s feeling great. I feel like I’m explosive off of it right now, and hopefully I’ll keep progressing and get even better.
‘‘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. If all goes well, then I’ll be out all next week and then reassess and see if I go all the reps in minicamp. I feel great. I would have practiced today. We’re taking it slow. There’s no reason to push it now, it’s OTAs.”
With a new offensive coordinator in former offensive line coach Mike Tice, the sooner the Bears can establish a starting offensive line the better. The interior appears set with left guard Chris Spencer, center Roberto Garza and right guard Lance Louis. J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams shared the left tackle spot. Rookie James Brown and veteran Mansfield Wrotto shared Carimi’s right tackle spot.
The Webb-Williams battle is in the may-the-best-man-win category. But if Carimi isn’t the starting right tackle on Sept. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field, the Bears likely will have to explain what went wrong.
The ever-confident Carimi doesn’t expect it to come to that.
“I’m not behind at all,’’ he said. ‘‘The doctor said since the surgery, it would be six months. It’s the 30th. Six months was three days ago. I’m right there.’’
But he acknowledges he’ll have to prove even to himself that he’s 100 percent healthy.
“I think coming back for minicamp, going day-in day-out with pads on. You’re never going to know until you get the pads back on. This situation is never going to be tested in OTAs. ... Coming back for mini-camp, going day-in, day-out with pads on ... that’s when I’m going to know.”