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Gabe Carimi’s return will force decision on Bears’ offensive line

AtlantFalcons v Chicago Bears

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears

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Updated: December 3, 2011 8:23AM

Things are looking up for the Bears. How many teams get healthier at this time of the season?

That’s the case at Halas Hall, where the Bears’ big personnel issue after the bye week is trying to return rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi to the starting lineup while maintaining the continuity of an improving offensive line.

Carimi, the Bears’ first-round pick (29th overall) from Wisconsin, has missed the last five games after partially dislocating his right kneecap against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.

He returned to practice last week and could be ready to play against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night in Philadelphia.

‘‘I’m feeling good,’’ Carimi said after practice Tuesday. ‘‘It’s getting better every day, so I’ll just take it day by day.’’

Whenever Carimi returns, the Bears will have a decision to make. Lance Louis, who started the season at right guard next to Carimi, eventually replaced Carimi at right tackle. Chris Spencer replaced Louis at right guard. Both have played well in their new positions.

The Bears can move Louis back to right guard and put Spencer back on the bench — the most likely scenario. Or they can keep Spencer at right guard and put Louis on the bench.

‘‘We don’t have to make any of those decisions yet,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘We’ll let him tell us exactly how far he’s come along. [He] looked good today, looked good last week. I assume we’ll have him available, and we love making those kinds of choices later in the week.’’

Besides making sure Carimi is completely healed, the Bears also have to be concerned about continuity. The game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was only the second time this season the Bears had started the same offensive line combination in consecutive games.

Smith didn’t seem too concerned with that.

‘‘We won’t put someone out there unless we feel we can pick up right where we left off,’’ he said. ‘‘If we move some players into the lineup, that will be the case. These aren’t hard decisions. They’ll tell us.’’

Offensive line coach Mike Tice will have the most input in the decision.

‘‘We’ll know a lot more at the end of the week,’’ Smith said. ‘‘And if we feel like we’re going to sit a player that’s been playing pretty good, that’s a good sign for the Bears.’’

Carimi didn’t give any hints as to whether he’ll play.

‘‘I’m not sure yet,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s going to be up to the coaches. I know they want me to be confident on it, so just waiting for that.’’

Carimi has been pretty steady throughout the whole ordeal. It’s not easy missing five games after starting your first two in the NFL.

‘‘It’s tough on anyone,’’ he said. ‘‘No one likes to be injured. But I’m glad to be working back into it. That’s all I can say right now — I’m really glad to be back in the mix.’’

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