LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It's not as if 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi has become a forgotten man, but it seems like a long time since he won the starting job at right tackle during training camp of his rookie season.
Carimi lasted less than two games before a dislocated kneecap ultimately resulted in two surgeries and a lost season, and quick comparisons were made to failed first-round selections spent on offensive tackles by the Bears in the past -- Marc Colombo and Chris Williams, who were quickly known more for their injuries than their blocking prowess.
Carimi, the 29th overall pick in last year's draft, has begun working his way back. This week, he took the field in a very limited capacity in organized team activity practices. The goal is to be 100 percent when the Bears go to training camp in July.
"I'm just trying to get in and see how it is with the OTAs and then reassess," Carimi said Wednesday afternoon. "It's going to be a constant reassessment, but it feel pretty good and the trainers are happy with my progress and the coaches are too. So we're just going to keep on trucking along here."
Carimi's play was impressive enough a year ago for the Bears to think they had a cornerstone on the offensive line for the next decade. But he almost feels like he's starting all over again a rookie.
"I want to go back out there and actually get a (full) season in," he said. "I feel like I have to get back out there and prove myself again."
But it's going to take awhile. He practiced for the first time on Tuesday, but on a very limited basis and then took Wednesday off.
"I woke up (Wednesday) and it felt great," Carimi said. "We always had planned that (I wasn't) going to practice (Wednesday), so I get to come out (today) and do what I did Tuesday, so it's going to be great.
"We're just taking it slow right now -- team review and individual (drills). I feel like I'm explosive off of it right now, and I'll hopefully keep progressing and get even better."
Carimi says he's not worried about reinjuring the knee, even though he suffered a similar but much milder injury in college. He's wearing a knee brace with extra stability for the kneecap and his rehab is right on schedule.
"It feels stronger than it was," he said. "I'm really comfortable with that
injury not happening again."
Having missed just three games at Wisconsin, Carimi was unaccustomed to the inactivity of a serious injury, and he admits there were some down times, but he's confident that's in past.
"There were points where you're just like, 'Is this ever going to
get better?' " he said. "But obviously, it has. I feel great now. I'm looking forward to being able to come out this year and help out wherever I can."
If Carimi returns to the player he was before his injury, it will go a long way toward the Bears improving what was their weakest position a year ago. But questions will remain until the knee is tested in game-type situations.
"You're never going to know until you get the pads back on," he said. "That's
when I'm going to know. This is never going to get tested in OTA's, (in) shorts and jerseys. But, if I've come this far in six months, with two months (until training camp), there's no way I'm not going to feel strong."