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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.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

While the Bears praised Mitchell Trubisky’s operation of a controlled gameplan in his second NFL start, they’re not losing sight of the special kind of athleticism and playmaking ability the rookie quarterback possesses. Two plays in particular stand out — plays that led to anywhere from a five-to-10 point swing in the game. 

Trubisky’s 18-yard third down completion to Kendall Wright in overtime seems to looks better every time you watch it on film. Trubisky was pressured by two Baltimore Ravens pass rushers, but managed to wriggle free and slide to his right, only to find linebacker C.J. Mosley waiting in front of him. The blend of athleticism and aggressiveness Trubisky displayed in firing high over the middle toward Wright — who made a specular play of his own — is one of the many reasons why the Bears are so excited about him. 

“To be able to throw that ball with both hands in the air and changing your arm angle – that’s why you draft a kid second,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Because of things like that.”

But there was another instinctual, athletic play Trubisky made that was just as impressive, and just as important. Cody Whitehair’s snapping issues cropped up at the Bears’ 13-yard line, with the center sailing a snap over Trubisky’s head and toward the end zone. 

If Baltimore recovered that ball, it would’ve tied the game; had Trubisky simply fell on the ball, it very well could’ve led to a safety that would’ve brought the Ravens within five points about a minute after the Bears took a 17-3 lead. Instead, Trubisky picked up the ball, scrambled to his right and threw the ball away — one of six throwaways he had on Sunday. 

“(That) was a critical, critical play at that time,” Loggains said. 

This isn't to say that two plays — only one of which gained yards — are enough to say the Bears' offense is in a good place. It's still a group that necessitates a controlled gameplan, similar to the one they used with Mike Glennon. But the difference: Trubisky can make plays. 

Briefly, on Whitehair

Since we’re on the subject of another poor snap by Whitehair, here’s what Loggains had to say on that topic: 

“He’s gotten better. We still had one too many. The thing and point I want to make with Cody Whitehair is, obviously wants to talk about the snap, but you’re talking about two weeks in a row of completely dominating. We’re an outside zone team that ran 25 snaps of inside zone because of what they were playing. It changed our game plan and Cody’s a big part of that. The last two weeks we’ve been able to move those guys inside. He’s a really good football player. 

“We’re going to battle through these snap issues. We’re cutting them down. He’s more accurate. He did have the one that obviously is unacceptable and no one owns that more than Cody Whitehair does. But he is a really good football player and let’s not lose sight of the 79 snaps where he really helped the team run the football and you can’t do that without a Cody Whitehair at center.”

Loggains has a point here — if Whitehair were struggling in the run game, against the defensive looks the Ravens were showing, the Bears wouldn’t have been able to run the ball 50 times with the kind of success they had. But the poor snaps nonetheless are ugly and have to be eliminated — imagine the uproar over them if Trubisky didn’t make that play in Baltimore. The Bears' offense won't always be good enough to overcome those kind of self-inflicted mistakes. 

Loggains and coach John Fox have praised Whitehair’s attention to the problem, and as long as Hroniss Grasu is still limited with a hand injury, Whitehair will have some time to work through these issues. One final thought: Who would’ve expected, back in May, that Whitehair would have the problems with snaps, and not Trubisky?