Bears draft Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Gabe Carimi told everyone at the NFL combine in February that he's the best offensive tackle in this year's class.
Now he gets a chance to prove it.
The Chicago Bears used the No. 29 overall pick in the first round of Thursday night's draft to select Carimi (6-foot-7, 314 pounds), a former star left tackle at Wisconsin. Projected by some scouts as a right tackle or guard in the NFL, Carimi will be counted upon to shore up Chicago's porous offensive line, which gave up a league-high 56 sacks in 2010, in addition to 92 quarterback hits.
"I had a great feeling that I would end up with the Bears. It's a great organization," Carimi said. "I couldn't be happier to play for them."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo considers Carimi versatile enough to play both left and right tackle as a pro, but wouldn't get into specifics about how he might fit as a rookie. Coach Lovie Smith said the team plans "to keep all options open [including potentially playing guard]," but said Carimi will come in as a left tackle.
"He's not a perfect player," Angelo said. "We like the fit. We like what he brings to us intangibly. We wanted to get better up front. He's a seasoned player."
In acquiring Carimi, the Bears benefited from a run of quarterbacks in the first round that saw four players at the position -- Cam Newton to the Panthers, Jake Locker to the Titans, Blaine Gabbert to the Jaguars, and Christian Ponder to the Vikings -- taken in the first 12 picks.
Still, the Bears felt the need to trade up for Carimi, which is what they tried to do in a failed deal with Baltimore, which was picking 26th. Strangely, the sides botched the trade because of what Angelo called "a disconnect."
Angelo -- seemingly embarrassed by the situation -- said, "They did everything right, I dropped the ball."
A four-year starter as a Badger, Carimi held his own during a three-game stretch last season against three players (Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan) picked in the first round Thursday, with the trio posting a combined seven tackles (two for lost yardage).
Carimi, meanwhile, made 25 knockdown blocks during that three-game tilt, including five resulting in touchdowns, as the team's rushing attack accounted for 499 of Wisconsin's 986 yards in those outings.
"Loved Gabe from the start," Smith said. "[I] just think he's gonna bring toughness to our offensive line. As far as what position he'll play, we don't have to make those decisions right now. As far as how soon we'll see him playing, we're just gonna have to let him get into the group."
Coming into the draft, some general managers around the league reportedly soured on Carimi because of what they perceived to be a cocky attitude from the tackle. Carimi downplayed that perception, saying his attitude won't be a problem with the Bears.
Carimi started 49 games for the Badgers and graded out at 90 or better in eleven of his last 22 contests.
"Any interviews I've ever had, that was a constant, I always talked about my teammates," Carimi explained. "It was really just my confidence in being able to play my position that I was showing. So there's not going to be any issue with that."
Carimi told reporters at the NFL combine that he was the best tackle in the 2011 class, and apparently relayed those sentiments to general managers around the league.
Angelo wasn't turned off by Carimi's confidence.
"I just hope he's right," the general manager said.
The run of quarterbacks pushed most of the top offensive tackles down the draft board, and it appeared the Bears would have a shot at a prospect rated even higher than Carimi at No. 29.
An audibly excited Carimi didn't seem overly concerned about his slide.
"To be really honest, it doesn't matter to me because the Bears picked me," Carimi said. "I have faith in the Bears and I'm glad they have faith in me."
Newton and Gabbert came off the board at Nos. 1 and 10. The Vikings picked up Florida State quarterback Ponder with the No. 12 pick, and the Lions followed at No. 13 by picking Auburn's Nick Fairley, making for a formidable complement to rising second-year man Ndamukong Suh, who was the 2010 defensive rookie of the year.
With a perceived need at offensive tackle, the Giants at No. 19 used their pick to draft Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, and two picks prior the Patriots drafted Colorado tackle Nate Solder, who was considered the second-best offensive tackle prospect behind Southern California's Tyron Smith, whom the Cowboys drafted at No. 9.
The Colts pounced on Boston College star and Lake Zurich native Anthony Castonzo with the 22nd pick, leaving the Bears to choose from the remaining top offensive tackle prospects: Carimi and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod.
The Bears elected to take Carimi, the 2010 Outland trophy winner -- which is given annually to the best offensive lineman in college football -- who ended up being the fifth tackle taken in the first round.
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25 drafted Alabama offensive tackle James Carpenter ahead of Carimi.
Interestingly, several scouts considered Carpenter to be a second- or third-round prospect.
A native of Cottage Grove, Wis., Carimi celebrated his moment Thursday night in a raucous house full of Packers fans who quickly changed allegiances.
"I've basically converted 100 Packer fans to Bears fans, [which is] what they should be now," Carimi said. "That whole stadium, I can't wait to step foot on that field. My first national football game will be as a Bear, and I am pumped for it."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.