By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) If Gabe Carimi’s future with the Bears wasn’t already in doubt, it certainly is now.
The 2011 first round draft pick was absent Tuesday for the second straight OTA practice and every indication is that the offensive lineman will be a no-show for the eight remaining voluntary practices.
The assumption among teammates is that Carimi, who is back in Arizona continuing to rehab a knee injury from nearly two years ago, is trying to get stronger before he joins the team and competes for a roster spot.
“That may be what he’s doing,” running back Matt Forte said. “Going to get stronger so that he can handle guys up at the line at the point of attack. Gabe is really intelligent, don’t get me wrong, and he could come in and learn the playbook during camp and do it then.”
But that doesn’t mean the Bears aren’t puzzled by the decision. With a new coaching staff in place and a job on the line, any day away from the competition is a missed opportunity.
“It’s important to be here and get a feel for the way we are doing things and practicing mode and obviously learning the techniques and offense,” center Roberto Garza, the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, said.
Sources close to Carimi indicated back in February that he was worried about his future with the Bears, but such paranoia is not all that surprising considering he was Jerry Angelo’s last first-round pick. While Carimi has been battling a knee injury suffered in his second career game back in 2011, the front office and coaching staff has been completely overhauled.
Carimi did attend a voluntary veteran mini-camp last month at Halas Hall, but has otherwise spent the offseason working out in Arizona instead of Halas Hall. That mini-camp was also held before the team used the No. 20 overall pick on guard Kyle Long during last month’s NFL Draft.
Carimi was already working as the backup right guard behind James Brown before the draft and Long was inserted into the same position during rookie mini-camp last weekend. Clearly, Carimi faces an uphill battle and may feel that he needs to get as healthy as possible before the pads are put on at training camp. After all, that’s when linemen can make their biggest impression before preseason games are played.
But the question is, will Carimi still be a Bear when training camp begins? There’s speculation the Bears could cut him after June 1 and reduce the cap hit to just $900,000 (saving $1.9 million in cash), but considering how weak the Bears’ offensive line has been in recent years, such a move wouldn’t make much sense when they can use all the competition they can get. Carimi still has upside if he can get his knee healthy and that may be why he is playing this card. By keeping the Bears guessing, it could keep him on the team and give him an extra month to prepare for mandatory mini-camp next month or even two months to get ready for training camp.
“It’s all about putting yourself in the best situation physically and mentally,” Garza said. “I can’t speak for him, but I’m sure he’s working hard and getting ready.”
But meanwhile, Carimi is losing valuable time learning a new system under new head coach Marc Trestman.
“That’s going to be tough,” Forte said. “I don’t play his position, but I think it’s probably pretty important to be here right now just with all the new faces around and the new offense especially. In the meetings, we’re not going over the same stuff. We’re going over new stuff every day just to be exposed to new stuff and get ready for training camp.”
Of course, Forte missed OTAs and mini-camp last year while working out a new contract, but he also didn’t have to worry about learning a new playbook and impressing a new coaching staff.
“It didn’t affect me too much,” Forte said. “We play different positions though. And when I missed OTA’s, we had the same playbook. The only thing that was different was some of the passing game. This is a whole entirely different playbook. Different terminology. Different wording. Everything. That would be a little more difficult.”
It is much more difficult. In fact, it’s a gamble. A big one.
For more Bears coverage throughout the year, follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHoge).