Bears

Moon: Carimi is a case of attitude

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Moon: Carimi is a case of attitude

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 10:27 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The first thing that strikes you about Gabe Carimi, after his sheer mass at 6-7, 315 pounds, is the attitude.

Not the ever-popular, ever-clichd mean streak." If you dont have at least a level of mean streak, youre not in the NFL; if you have too much mean streak, youre getting too many 15-yard penalties and youre headed for MMA.

But with Carimi its the attitude that actually matters and one that not every player has. And if they dont, they will only be so good.

There are only two options, Carimi said Saturday. You never can stay consistent. Improvement is the only way to go. I have a hunger to try to succeed at whatever I do. Thats the objective: to be the best Bear offensive lineman I can be.

Not everyone walks into Halas Hall with that attitude. For some, being a high draft choice is the accomplishment. For Carimi, its a dare.
WATCH: Bears' Carimi gets first look at Halas Hall

And he put that on himself when he declared at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was the best of a good tackle crop in this draft. Indeed, he doesnt quite get why someone wouldnt feel that way.

What am I going to say? That I dont think Im the best tackle or going to be the best tackle? Carimi wondered. But I am more than happy. This is exactly where I wanted to be, to be honest with you. If you ask any of my close friends, I told them, when they asked me, Where do you fit best in, or where do you think you want to go, I told them that I wanted to be a Bear.

The right guy

Every personnel executive after every draft pick declares that the particular pick was precisely the guy they wanted. In the case of the Bears and Carimi, that in fact was the case.

The Bears wouldve been delighted with Tyron Smith from USC (to Dallas No. 9), Nate Solder from Colorado (to New England No. 17), Anthony Castonzo from Boston College (to Indianapolis No. 22) and Carimi. What they got with Carimi was a four-starter with a top Big Ten program with a history of producing solid linemen.

Hes been an outstanding player at Wisconsin for four years, said offensive line coach Mike Tice. Hes gotten better every year. Hes gotten tougher every year too.

Were trying to get bigger. Film doesnt lie. Hell bring everything that were looking to bring to the offensive line room: toughness, intelligence, size. Hes a solid athlete, maybe not a great athlete, but a solid athlete.
Creatively keeping the faith

Carimi is Jewish, which raises the question of whether he can or will play on the Jewish holidays. Sandy Koufax did not pitch a World Series game because it fell on the high holy days.

Carimi played last season against Arizona State after fasting based on observing Yom Kippur on Israeli time. He fasted and then received an IV to speed up recovery of nourishment.

And just to be sure, Carimi checked calendars and found Yom Kippur falling on no projected game day for more than a decade.

Yeah, thats what I did this year, Carimi said. It was Yom Yippur this year. Basically what I did was go off Israeli time. Fast at 12 oclock and then had like three hours to IV-up and eat.

I didnt feel any different. Ive already looked out 15 years from now and it doesnt happen on Sunday.

To his credit, Carimi also has adjusted a core belief system as far as his fan allegiance, which was to the Green Bay Packers because of his Wisconsin roots.

I was a Packers fan growing up, but Ive had my errors in my way, Carimi deadpanned. Ive sinned and repented, so Im good now. Ive seen the light.

Now, if he can see the 30-some pass protections of Tice and the Bears offense just as clearly, the Bears will have something.

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.

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

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USA Today

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

In the midst of Khalil Mack’s All-Pro debut season with the Bears, then-outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley offered a thought of how his star pupil could be even better in 2019. With the benefit of a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the Bears would be able to move Mack around more within their defense, which would present tougher challenges for opposing coaching staffs trying to gameplan for him. 

Staley left for the Denver Broncos along with Vic Fangio back in January. But a new coaching staff has the same thought: There’s more to what Mack can do than we saw in 2018. And 2018 was pretty impressive. 

“There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments,” senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Freedom, he has a little bit. But variety he has plenty. There’s plenty of things that we’re going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things he does well.”

The No. 1 thing Mack does well, to boil it down, is wreck a game. Every head coach and offensive coordinator around the league has to develop a plan for limiting those game-wrecking abilities. It meant quick throws, the kind that leave the quarterback’s hand before Mack can even set up a pass-rushing move, for some teams. For others, it meant offering extra pass protection support through committing a tight end, running back or both to slowing him down. Mack still found a way to total 12 1/2 sacks and 73 total pressures, all while an ankle injury effectively wiped out four games in the middle of the season. 

“You’ve got a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete, all that stuff” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a great football player, but he’s a better teammate. And he’s a better person. He doesn’t say much, but actions speak louder than words. Again, he’s a great worker. He’s a smart guy. He picks things up. Not gonna say much, but out here on the football field he’s going to lead by example.” 

As the 2018 season progressed, the Bears felt more comfortable with having Mack play on the left and right during games, not one spot exclusively (in the season’s first four weeks, 166 of Mack’s snaps came on the left and 25 came on the right, per Pro Football Focus). By the playoffs, the Bears were able to strategically use Mack on either side of their defense to try to counter-act the scheming done by Eagles coach Doug Pederson (Mack played 26 snaps on the left and 26 on the right in that game, per Pro Football Focus). 

But both the previous and current coaching staffs envision Mack being able to do more than just line up on either side of the formation. And Monachino has experience in figuring out the best way to create that variety he talked about, too: He was Terrell Suggs’ position coach in 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens edge rusher won defensive player of the year honors (also: That was the lone year in which Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator). 

Suggs primarily rushed from various defensive line positions (end/outside linebacker, as designated by Pro Football Focus), but lined up off the ball on a little under 20 percent of his snaps in 2011. An NFL.com article described him as playing a “hybrid-linebacker” position, which sounds about right. 

Suggs finished 2011 with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. 

It’s only May, which means it’s far too early to predict how the Bears will use Mack. Coaches don’t even know the specifics yet. But it’s fair to expect a few different wrinkles for how Mack’s game-wrecking ability is deployed in the Bears’ defense with a full complement of offseason practices — and, too, the coaching minds of Monachino and Pagano. 

“With a player like this, you don’t even have to sit in the offense’s meeting rooms on the other side to know that they have to tend to him on every snap,” Monachino said, referencing Suggs. “They have to know where (former Pittsburgh Steelers safety) Troy Polamalu is on every snap. You gotta know where (Houston Texans edge rusher) JJ Watt is on every snap. This is a guy that you have to do that with. So with Khalil, being able to predict that they’re going to talk about, how do we tend to Khalil Mack on every snap, and then being able to move him into different spots and then to show him in different ways and to do different things with him, it’s going to be really valuable for the defense.”

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”