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Bears GM Jerry Angelo gets it right with Gabe Carimi

Gabe Carimi could be an immediate starter Bears line thneeds help. | Jamie Sabau~Getty Images

Gabe Carimi could be an immediate starter on a Bears line that needs help. | Jamie Sabau~Getty Images

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Updated: August 5, 2011 7:45PM

Lovie Smith redeemed himself in 2010. Starting late Thursday night, it was Jerry Angelo who was on the clock.

By leading the Bears to the NFC Championship Game after three straight non-playoff seasons, the Bears coach reminded a skeptical fan base that he can coach a team with talent. Then it was up to the general manager to prove he can keep that talent coming not only via free agency but through the NFL Draft.

The 2011 draft is a huge one for Angelo, perhaps the biggest of his long career, and he responded with what will likely go down as the most popular first-round pick of his Bears tenure.

We don’t know whether Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi will be as effective as advertised, but the 6-7, 315-pounder enjoyed nothing more than spending his Saturday afternoons planting similarly sized men in the ground, which should not only serve as an early wedding present for quarterback Jay Cutler but should help Angelo temporarily satisfy fans critical of his draft-day record.

“That’s their trademark with their offensive line, they are very, very physical and run-oriented,” Angelo said of Wisconsin. “It’s very similar to the Midwestern philosophy and very similar to ours.”

It was obvious the Bears offensive line was missing a quality left tackle last season. It also lacked the one intangible that can allow a unit to overcome such a handicap.

The 2011 draft class lacked the can’t-miss left tackle such as the Miami Dolphins’ Jake Long and the Cleveland Browns’ Joe Thomas, so Angelo did the next best thing. By landing Carimi with the 29th overall pick, he injected attitude into a toothless unit that not only allowed a league-high 56 sacks but failed to consistently open holes in the running game.

“He’s just a tough, physical player who knows his trade,” Angelo said.

The Bears need for offensive-line help was even more apparent after the Detroit Lions took Auburn’s Nick Fairley at No. 13 overall. Fairley was widely considered the second-best defensive tackle in the draft. Few have dominated the Southeastern Conference the way Fairley did last season. Some have claimed that only former Nebraska wrecking ball Ndamukong Suh has been more dominant as an interior lineman in recent years, which makes the prospect of Fairley and Suh teaming up frightening not only for offensive line coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz but for Cutler’s fiance Kristin Cavallari, who probably is worried about carrying her husband-to-be home from Soldier Field in her ring box.

The Bears proved they can compete with the elite NFC teams despite a major weakness at a critical position. For the first time in two years they had a first-round draft pick, and they responded by choosing a player who has a chance to start as a rookie. Carimi may not be able to play left tackle in the pros like he did at Wisconsin. Skeptics wonder if he has the athleticism to excel on the right side. The ultimate fail-safe for the Bears is that at worst, Carimi should dominate at guard, and they need a guard as well.

Angelo has been criticized for making the safe pick. In this case, the safe choice was also the only choice.

Angelo remade his front office while preparing for this moment, saying goodbye to long-time lieutenant Greg Gabriel and hiring old buddy Tim Ruskell. Ratcheting up the urgency surrounding this year’s draft that Angelo has little room for error considering the defending Super Bowl champion Packers are the league’s best drafting team.

It wasn’t coaching that separated the Bears from their arch rivals last season. The Packers had a younger, deeper and more talented roster. More work must be done today, Saturday and in future drafts to reverse that, but there’s no second-guessing this pick, which means Angelo has taken a positive step toward redemption.

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