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Offensive line injuries spoil Jerry Angelo’s fun

GM Jerry Angelo (left with Lovie Smith) hasn’t been able build an offensive line through draft. | AP

GM Jerry Angelo (left, with Lovie Smith) hasn’t been able to build an offensive line through the draft. | AP

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Updated: December 20, 2011 8:09AM

Five weeks after one prominent local columnist suggested the Bears hire the football version of Theo Epstein to replace him, general manager Jerry Angelo is flying high as the architect of one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

His veteran leaders who seemingly were on the verge of a precipitous post-30 drop in production instead are thriving in their old age. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are playing at a near-peak level, and cornerback Charles Tillman is getting more Pro Bowl support than ever in his ninth year in the NFL. Angelo’s bold moves for Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler have helped boost the Bears above the muck of NFL mediocrity and as close to the unbeatable Packers as anybody else in the NFC.

Angelo not only struck gold with 2008 second-round pick Matt Forte, but he’s getting the maximum return on his investment with his gutsy, perhaps risky, but certainly deft handling of Forte’s request for a contract extension. And Angelo always will be the guy who drafted Devin Hester, the greatest kick returner in NFL history.

But just when things look like they’re going so swell, Angelo’s nagging Achilles keeps flaring up to remind us why those ‘‘Dump Angelo’’ columns get written in the first place. Rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, the Bears’ first-round pick who already was considered their best offensive lineman only six quarters into his NFL career, was put on injured reserve Friday because of complications with the rehabilitation of the partially dislocated kneecap he suffered in
Week 2 at New Orleans. That came four days after the Bears put left guard Chris Williams — their first-round pick in 2008 — on injured reserve with a dislocated wrist.

‘‘[We’re] disappointed,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘But [Carimi has] been out awhile, and we’ve played most of the season without him. Gabe, eventually, will be a great player for us. But other guys have stepped up, and we’ve moved on.’’

Not much you can do about injuries, of course — though Williams and Carimi had injury “red flags” on some draft boards. But the loss of both players in the same week recasts a light on two frustrating Angelo bugaboos — his inability to build an offensive line through the draft and his record of first-round picks.

With Carimi on IR, none of Angelo’s eight first-round picks is on the roster, though five are still in the NFL — Marc Colombo (Dolphins), Rex Grossman (Redskins), Tommie Harris (Chargers), Cedric Benson (Bengals) and Greg Olsen (Panthers).

Cutler was acquired from Denver for two first-round picks, so he’s ostensibly an Angelo first-rounder. But the price was high. The 2009 pick was No. 18, when Jeremy Maclin, Michael Oher, Clay Matthews and Kenny Britt were still on the board; the 2010 pick was No. 11, which the Broncos traded to the 49ers, who took offensive tackle Anthony Davis.

Center Maurkice Pouncey and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga also were available. But considering Angelo’s luck with offensive linemen, it might not have mattered. After the ill-fated selection of Colombo — who, like Carimi, suffered a season-ending dislocated kneecap as a rookie — and guard Terrence Metcalf in the first three rounds of his first draft in 2002, Angelo drafted only two offensive linemen in the first four rounds in the next nine years before taking Carimi.

He has a fighting chance with offensive line coach Mike Tice, who has turned seventh-round picks Lance Louis (2009) and J’Marcus Webb (2010) into starters. When Carimi went on IR, the Bears promoted tackle Levi Horn from the practice squad. The 6-6, 320-pound Horn, a 2010 undrafted free agent from Montana, didn’t play Division I football and hasn’t played a down in the NFL. What makes him think he’s good enough?

‘‘I’ve got a great coach that’s been coaching me up for a year and a half, and he knew I was rough coming into it,’’ Horn said. ‘‘He’s been trying to get me ready for this day, and I think he’s done a good job.’’

Tice might solve the developmental issue on the line. But so far, it doesn’t look like he can do anything about Angelo’s bad luck with injuries. Apparently, you have to go to a higher authority to solve that one.

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