5. You know Cutler is looking forward to having them both back. Carimi was the Bears’ first or second-best linemen until he was injured in Week 2 at New Orleans. And Cutler’s connection with Bennett is painfully obvious.
In his mind, first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi has already made the transition to being a Chicago Bear after growing up in Green Bay Packers country. Like all NFL rookies, he’ll have to wait to make the change a reality.
The Wisconsin offensive tackle visited Halas Hall on Saturday for a news conference and to meet with coaches and officials from his new team, but the visit was slated to be his last until the NFL owners’ lockout of players ends.
“I’m ready,” Carimi said. “As soon as this lockout is over, I can’t wait to come and start playing and I’m sure everyone feels that way, too,” Carimi said.
The 29th pick in the draft will return to Madison to work out.
“I’m planning on going back to Madison and training with my other offensive linemen that I’ve been training with there the last three weeks leading up to the draft, and continue to work on my position skill and strength gains,” he said.
Although Carimi went to Monona Grove High School in Cottage Grove, Wis. and rooted for the Packers, he has never been to a Green Bay game.
“The actual first Packer game I’ll go to will be here at Soldier Field, so I’m pretty pumped about that,” he said.
The Packers are his past, now, and the rival Bears his future.
“I had my errors of my way and I sinned and repent, so I’m good now,” he said. “I saw the light.”
Carimi joins a Bears offensive line that allowed a league-worst 56 sacks last season, but showed some improvement while using the same five players over the final nine weeks after struggling with four different lineups the first seven weeks.
They ran the ball more often the final nine weeks and gave up 2.6 sacks per game after allowing 4.7 sacks a game the first seven weeks.
Carimi’s strength is said to be his run blocking, but he thinks he can contribute as a left tackle in both phases.
“I’m a tough player,” he said. “I’m going to play physical. We’ve got O-linemen here who are tough and I’m going to hopefully play with them and we’ll have a nastiness to our O-line.”
Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice knew Carimi well before the draft. His son, Nate, is a backup quarterback at Wisconsin and Carimi’s mother tailgates at Badger games with Tice’s wife.
“He was our fourth-ranked lineman and I believe throughout the building we all ranked him about the same, maybe a couple of the other guys were switched back and forth,” Tice said. “But 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.
“He’s been an outstanding player at Wisconsin for four years, he’s gotten better every year. He’s gotten tougher every year, too.”
At 6-foot-7, 314 pounds, Carimi figures well in the plans for the future, although the Bears won’t say yet whether he’ll be a left or right tackle, or possibly even a guard.
“It’s nice to bring another guy in the building that’s as big as I am, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Tice said. “We’re trying to get bigger.”
The system of offensive coordinator Mike Martz relies more on larger linemen. The Bears used to have smaller, quicker linemen when they used a modified West Coast offense under former coordinator Ron Turner.
The Bears were never scared off by the brash attitude Carimi displayed at the February scouting combine, when he said he thought he was the best tackle in the draft.
“I had assumed that almost any tackle would feel confident in their own game,” Carimi said. “So what am I going to say? I don’t think I’m the best tackle?
“I’m more than happy this is exactly where I wanted to be to be honest with you.
“If you ask any of my close friends, I’ve told them. ‘Where do you think you fit best, where do you think you want to go?’ And I said I wanted to be a Bear, probably.”