When was the last time we entered a Chicago Bears game with the primary area of focus being… guard? (Answer: Never.) But that will absolutely be the case Sunday on the Lakefront as first-round selection Gabe Carimi makes his first ever NFL start at right guard.
When this season began, all media and fan eyes were fixated on the left tackle, on the JWebb Nation, on the predictable failure to protect the blind side of the franchise quarterback. Webb has not been good but he has – outside of prime time road disasters in Green Bay and San Francisco – been serviceable on the edge. It was not the 7th round pick from West Texas A&M forced to the bench. It was the 1st round pick from Wisconsin.
Carimi’s collapse at right tackle has been the offensive line’s most compelling and important development. He was expected to be successful. He was expected to allow offensive coordinator Mike Tice to use his slide protections and chips to aid the left side. And while he looked physical and angry in the run game, he struggled with footwork and technique in pass protection. Often he seemed embarrassingly nonathletic when matched against faster and stronger defensive ends. (My theory is the NFL has yet to adapt to the talent gap between pass rushers and pass blockers at the collegiate level.) Even against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a rout, Carimi had a holding penalty, two false starts and a sack allowed. So to the bench he went and journeyman tackle Jonathan Scott stepped into the position successfully against the Minnesota Vikings.
Jared Allen. Launch. Lance Louis. Done.
Now Gabe Carimi will start at right guard Sunday against the ferocious front of the Seattle Seahawks – one of the top defenses in all of the NFL. And as all eyes are fixed on him, Carimi will have an opportunity to salvage his once promising career in Chicago. If he can string together half a dozen solid games at guard, the Bears may have found a solid guard to pair with a healthy Lance Louis in 2013.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Yes one would think the guard position should allow Carimi to accentuate the positives in his game and hide the negatives but a player as physically and emotionally fragile as he is can’t be trusted. And switching from tackle to guard is not as easy as sliding your feet to the left a few times. It is an entirely different position – the equivalent of switching from wide receiver to tight end. Can Carimi pull it off? It’s an impossible question to answer.
Sunday is about Carimi. And I know there will be one pair of eyes in Section 108 that rarely leaves his attention.