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Bears select Wisconsin OL Carimi in first round

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Bears select Wisconsin OL Carimi in first round

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 9:46 p.m. Updated: 11:56 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

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In an NFC North division marked by increasingly ferocious defensive lines, the Bears went for an answer Thursday night as they survived a run on offensive linemen and some last-minute chaos to grab Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi with the 29th pick of the 2011 draft.

The Bears chose Carimi, who declared himself the best tackle in the 2011 class, over Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod, who went 32nd to the Green Bay Packers where he will pair with Bryan Bulaga, the Packers No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.

"I know I can play right away, Carimi declared at the NFL Scouting Combine. That's my best asset. I'm a draft-ready tackle

"I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there.''

Carimi, 6-7, 314 pounds, was the 2010 Outland Trophy winner as the nations best offensive lineman after starting 13 games at left tackle for the second straight season. He was the successor to Joe Thomas, a top-10 pick several years ago by the Cleveland Browns.

We feel very good with Gabe Carimi as our first-round pick, general manager Jerry Angelo said. We thought the linemen would go and every lineman went. It was a very good draft for linemen and we were fortunate to get a player like Gabe.

The Bears last selected a Wisconsin tackle in a first round when the late Jim Finks selected Dennis Lick with the eighth-overall pick of the 1976 draft to perform escort duty for Walter Payton.

Carimi arrives with experience against elite pass rushers, having faced Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and teammate J.J Watt. All were first-round picks Thursday.

Carimi, who impressed offensive line coach Mike Tice during a private workout at Wisconsin, said Clayborn was the best player he faced all last season.

I had a great feeling Id end up with the Bears, Carimi said. Im glad they have faith in me and Im willing to help the Bears in any way possible.

That already started at the Carimi household Thursday night. We converted about 100 hundred Packers fans to Bears fans, he said, laughing.

Some chaos

The Bears, who benefited from the number of quarterbacks taken in round one (four in the first 12 picks) got a handful of offers from teams wanting to trade up. But once the offensive linemen started to come off as quickly as they did, Angelo said, we thought we would stay where we were.

The Bears were attempting to deal up in order to ensure their getting Carimi but communications broke down during conversations with the Baltimore Ravens.

We did try to move up and get a deal done with a team in front of us. We were not able to get that done so we sat and we were happy with the player we got. I did apologize to Baltimore and did tell them it was our fault. We were following the rules and just ran out of time. It was a glitch on our part. But it worked out and we got the player we wanted and feel they got the player they wanted.

The fit

We loved Gabe from the start, coach Lovie Smith said. Picking as late as we did, we didnt know if wed have a chance to get him.

Smith would not commit to where Carimi will play. But the Carimi selection casts the future of Chris Williams as a starter in serious doubt. JMarcus Webb produced a rookie season good enough for coaches to be looking at him as a possible left tackle.

Carimi said that no team talked to him about playing guard, which says that the Bears do not see him inside. Williams was bumped to left guard last season after some early struggles and did not perform sufficiently for the Bears to slot him there, or at tackle, for 2011.

Williams has played left and right tackle as well as left guard and could well find himself as the swingman in the 2011 line group. Frank Omiyale was inadequate at left tackle and is expected to be moved to guard, where he played with mixed results in 2009.

Carimi comes from a system similar to what the Bears want to be. Theyre very physical, very run-oriented, Angelo said.

Smith said no decisions have been made as for which position Carimi would be assigned.

Were going to keep the options open, Smith said. But Carimi said in Indianapolis that no team had talked to him about guard.

I cant wait to get that group together and they show us exactly where they need to play, Smith said. The plan is to lock a player into a position and keep him there, and thats what well do.

What about the next Tommie Harris?

Yet to be resolved is what the Bears will do to address their need at defensive tackle. Four D-tackles were selected by No. 21 (Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Corey Liuget, Phil Taylor) and Temples Muhammad Wilkerson went 30th to the New York Jets. North Carolinas Marvin Austin fell out of the first round entirely over lingering character issues.

Players to watch as the Bears turn approaches Friday at No. 30 in the second round: LSUs Drake Nevis and Miamis Allen Bailey, and possibly Terrell McClain from South Florida. Stephen Paea from Oregon State is not expected to last deep into round two.

Only Bailey (6-3) is even 6-2, making height a concern. The Bears already have shorter tackles in Anthony Adams (expected back as a free agent) and Matt Toeaina and need more than only Henry Melton (6-3 and still unproven) with interior size.

Itll be a challenge Friday, much more than it was today, Angelo said.

Draft scrambler

The Carimi pick followed some anxious minutes of confusion several picks before the Bears. The Baltimore Ravens were passed over at No. 26, reportedly because the Bears were in trade talks with them looking to move up and make their move in a shrinking lineman market.

The Kansas City Chiefs then jumped in with their pick of Pitt receiver Jonathan Baldwin. That pick, by a Chiefs team thought to be in the market for a tackle, put the Bears on the brink of their goal of making a big, in more ways than one, addition to a troubled offensive line.

Baltimore exercised its pick at No. 27 for cornerback Jimmy Smith from Colorado, New Orleans traded up to New Englands spot at No. 28 for Alabama running back Mark Ingram, and the Bears were in, making their pick almost before the celebrating was going on in the Ingram camp.

The Bears approached the draft with a pool of players they considered choices worth the 29th pick. They needed most of them after offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo, Nate Solder and Danny Watkins all went by No. 23.

A nervous time

The first nervous tremor came at No. 17 when the New England Patriots, a franchise that has consistently invested picks in its offensive line, created a mild stir when Bill Belichick went for Colorados Nate Solder, considered to be a left tackle at 6-8 and athletic.

USCs Tyron Smith already had gone No. 9 to the Dallas Cowboys, as expected, and guardcenter Mike Pouncey from Florida stayed in state when the Miami Dolphins took him at No. 15. Pouncey is not the massive blocker the Bears want to match up in their division but he projected as an eventual replacement for center Olin Kreutz.

After Solder, which left Castonzo, Carimi, Watkins and Sherrod still in the hopper, the next four teams (San Diego, the Giants, Tampa Bay, Cleveland) went defense. That left seven picks before the Bears with four quality offensive lineman available.
Tightening up

That changed abruptly when Indianapolis took Castonzo at No. 22 as a personal protector for Peyton Manning and the Philadelphia Eagles followed with Watkins to fill the same role for Michael Vick.

When No. 24 New Orleans took California defensive end Cameron Jordan, the situation was now four picks to go with Carimi and Sherrod in the board. The best part of that situation was that one of the four teams was New England (No. 28) and the Patriots already had taken Solder so werent looking for another offensive lineman.

The Seattle Seahawks then surprised most of the draft world at No. 25 by selecting massive Alabama tackle James Carpenter, not generally rated among the top tackles in the draft.

Then the chaos began with the Ravens and Chiefs shuffling and the Saints trading up to the New England spot at No. 27.
Division-watching

The Detroit Lions spent last offseason and draft getting better on defense in particular, with free-agent signings and selecting Ndamokung Suh with the No. 2 pick of the draft. They then added Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley to pair with Suh in what may go right past the Minnesota Vikings Williams Wall as the best defensive tackle tandem in the NFC North.

One pick before Fairley, the Minnesota Vikings addressed their quarterback issue with Christian Ponder from Florida State. GM Rick Spielman did not consider the somewhat surprising pick to be a reach and Ponder, like Cam Newton in Carolina, is such an upgrade over the incumbents that the Vikings are virtually a better team already.

The Green Bay Packers went with a tackle for the second straight year when they selected Sherrod, who projects as a starter to succeed 12-year veteran Chad Clifton.

Schedule shocks

The Bears had many reasons to watch as the 2011 draft unfolded, not all of them good.

Multiple teams on their 2011 schedule got significantly better with projected starters, such as Opening Day opponent Atlanta trading up from No. 27 to No. 6 for purposes of grabbing wide receiver Julio Jones. Something for Charles Tillman, Major Wright, Chris Harris and D.J. Moore to concern themselves with besides quarterback Matt Ryan, already a problem.

The Carolina Panthers will visit Soldier Field on Oct. 2 in game four presumably behind rookie quarterback Newton. The Panthers were horrific last year with Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen at quarterback; Newton has some developing to do but the Carolina offense was already better a little after 7 p.m. Thursday just by adding even a novice Newton.

The offensive line will have the assignment of blocking rush linebacker Von Miller after the Denver Broncos made the Texas A&M star the No. 2 pick of the draft. This will be a problem for whoever ends up as the Bears starting tackles.

The San Diego Chargers will bring a defensive front with potentially a decided Illinois flavor of No. 1 picks after selecting Illinois Corey Liuget at No. 18. Liuget will play the other end opposite 2005 No. 1 Luis Castillo from Northwestern and potentially alongside Northern Illinois Larry English, their 2009 No. 1 two years ago but who has been bothered with injuries.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl. 

2017 Bears position grades: Wide receivers

2017 Bears position grades: Wide receivers

2017 grade: D-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Markus Wheaton (contract), Dontrelle Inman (free agent), Kendall Wright (free agent), Josh Bellamy (free agent), Kevin White (fifth-year option)

Possible free agent targets: All of them? (But more specifically Jarvis Landry, Mike Wallace, Paul Richardson, Marqise Lee, Ryan Grant, Eric Decker, Albert Wilson, Donte Moncrief, Jaron Brown, Taylor Garbriel, Terrelle Pryor, John Brown, Allen Robinson)

The Bears cannot go into 2018 with a wide receiver core as weak as the one with which Mitchell Trubisky had to work in 2017. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to go out and sign Jarvis Landry for huge money and then draft, say, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but adding multiple reliable wide receivers is a massive need for the offseason. A blend of free agents and draft picks seems like the most likely route.

Before we look at this year’s free agent class, a word on Cameron Meredith, who said this on locker cleanout day Jan. 1: “Training camp for sure I’ll be back. Right now it’s staying on pace so that I can do that. Yes, full recovery.”

The Bears shouldn’t count on Meredith to improve off his 66-catch, 888-yard 2016 season by virtue of him coming back from a torn ACL suffered last August. But it’s also not like any production from Meredith will be a bonus; if he’s even close to the player he was two years ago, he’ll be a significant part of the Bears’ offense.

So if the Bears are counting on Meredith to play in 2018, do they absolutely need to go out and splurge for the best receiver on the market in Jarvis Landry? Not necessarily. Landry reportedly wants Davante Adams money (four years, $58 million, with $32 million guaranteed) and might get more than that if a bidding war develops on the open market.

Would Landry be worth it? He followed consecutive 1,100-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 with a league-leading 112 receptions in 2017, and won’t turn 26 until next November, so yeah, he very well could be. The Bears should have enough cap space to chase Landry, too.

But for a few reasons, Ryan Pace has either never landed nor pursued the priciest free agents in his three cycles as general manager. He splashed $38.75 million for Pernell McPhee in 2015; that was the 10th-largest free agent contract signed that year and has the 13th-highest amount of guaranteed money, per Spotrac. Danny Trevathan got $28 million in 2016 (22nd among free agents), and Mike Glennon’s ill-fated $45 million contract ranked 11th last year (with significantly less guaranteed money).

The other part of Pace’s free agency strategy hasn’t been under his control: The Bears just haven’t been an enticing destination lately. Cornerback A.J. Bouye -- 2017’s highest-paid free agent -- turned down more money from the Bears to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example.

The Bears hope that’s changing, with a promising franchise quarterback, a young and affable head coach and a major renovation to Halas Hall. For all the losing, and for all the gripes outside Lake Forest about John Fox, the Bears did have a good culture in their locker room. Selling the future of this franchise should be a lot easier in 2018 than it was in 2017.

Will that all add up to the Bears signing Landry to a huge contract? Not necessarily. The Bears could make a strong pitch and sizable offer, but he could be lured by another team that’s had more recent success (like the Oakland Raiders). Or Pace could continue to look for bargains in free agency, which hasn’t particularly worked out for him in the past, but then take a receiver with the Bears’ first-round pick.

But perhaps Pace will see his long-term vision coming together, and will see a big-ticket free agent like Landry being the guy who puts the Bears over the hump from winning to losing. He could be the franchise’s Jon Lester, or if you’re a hopeful White Sox fan, Manny Machado.

But here’s a counter to the argument for signing Landry: Kansas City’s offense last year didn’t have a big-time outside target. Tyreek Hill’s versatility and explosive playmaking ability made him the Chiefs’ best wide receiver, but he was able to line up at almost any position on the field. Albert Wilson (who’s a free agent) had the second-most targets of among Chiefs receivers with 62; tight end Travis Kelce was targeted a team-high 122 times.

The Bears don’t have a Hill or a Kelce on their roster. Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen could be the “light” versions of both, which may necessitate a need for better “traditional” wide receivers. That doesn’t necessarily mean Landry, to be fair.

Mike Wallace is 31 but showed he still has something in the tank, missing only one game the last two years while racking up 1,765 yards and eight touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens. Paul Richardson had a breakout 2017 with the Seattle Seahawks, catching 44 passes for 703 yards with six touchdowns as an effective deep threat. Marqise Lee had 119 catches for 1,553 yards in the vertically-challenged Jaguars offense the last two years. Ryan Grant has never missed a game in his four-year career and is coming off a career best 45-catch, 573-yard season with Washington. The aforementioned Wilson caught 42 passes for 554 yards with the Chiefs last year, both career highs.

Perhaps no free agent receivers have as much to prove than Terrelle Pryor and Donte Moncrief. Pryor, like Alshon Jeffery, found the free agent market weak in 2017 and took a one-year prove-it deal, but instead turning it into an extension and Super Bowl ring, he bombed with only 20 catches for 240 yards with Washington. It’d be a risk, but if he can get the stink of 2017 off him and flash the talent that got him 77 receptions and over 1,000 yards with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he’d be worth it.

Moncrief is another interesting name out there. He was targeted over 100 times in 2015 and caught 64 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns as the big-bodied complement to T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis, but struggled to stay healthy the last two years, only playing 21 games and totaling 56 receptions for 698 yards.

One other guy to highlight: Allen Robinson. The Jaguars probably won’t let him get away, but even if they do, would the Bears really want to sign him and then have three wide receivers coming off season-ending injuries (Meredith and Kevin White being the other two; Robinson tore his ACL in Week 1 last year). The Rams’ Sammy Watkins is also an impending free agent, but it’d be a huge surprise if Los Angeles let him hit the open market, so he’s not worth considering for the Bears right now.

We’ll see what direction Pace takes next month with free agency. But expect the Bears to return no more than one receiver from their Week 2 lineup -- Kendall Wright (59 receptions, 614 yards) is probably the only guy who could be back, if the two parties want to re-unite. Wright, as it stands for my grade, was the only guy keeping this unit from an “F,” as in a total failure.

Markus Wheaton, who became only one of nine players since 1992 to be targeted at least 15 times and catch fewer than 20 percent of those targets (he caught two passes), is likely to be cut. It’s unlikely Josh Bellamy or Dontrelle Inman will be re-signed (slight chance for Inman, but he disappeared in December). And the Bears probably will decline Kevin White’s fifth-year option, making 2018 a prove-it year for the former first-round pick.