LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Needing offensive line help after seeing quarterback Jay Cutler beaten up by the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game, the Chicago Bears went behind enemy lines for help.
They selected Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi with the 29th pick in the NFL draft Thursday night after failing in an attempt to trade up three picks with the Baltimore Ravens in order to select the 2010 Outland Trophy winner.
"I had a great feeling I'd end up with the Bears," said the 6-foot-7, 314-pound Carimi. "It's a great organization. I can't be happier than to play for them."
Carimi started 49 games for Wisconsin at left tackle. Last season, Carimi faced Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and held them to seven tackles, two for losses. All three of those Big Ten defenders were drafted in the first round.
"We loved Gabe from the start," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Picking as late as we did, we just didn't know if we'd have an opportunity to get him."
So they asked Baltimore about a trade. The deal never went down, and the negotiations took long enough that the Ravens' time to pick at No. 26 expired, causing them to drop down one spot behind Kansas City.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo took blame for the situation, calling it a "glitch" and said he apologized to the Ravens. The Bears said Angelo did not confirm the trade with the league in time, a deal in which Chicago would have given up the 29th pick and a fourth-rounder for the 26th pick.
"We had a disconnect," Angelo said. "There might be something said about it because of not communicating with the league in proper protocol. That was my fault. I called Baltimore and apologized to Baltimore and told them it was our fault."
Angelo noted that the Bears got Carimi anyway.
"It turned out all right," he said.
The Bears' offensive line struggled throughout the 2010 season, allowing a league-high 56 sacks. Cutler suffered a knee sprain in the NFC championship game loss to Green Bay and a concussion in a Week 4 loss against the New York Giants.
The Bears used Frank Omiyale, a former right tackle and left guard, as their starting left tackle in 2010.
Carimi has a reputation for being brash, and told reporters at February's NFL scouting combine, "I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there."
At the time, Carimi also called himself more "draft-ready" than any other tackle. Carimi was the fifth offensive tackle selected Thursday night.
Carimi explained Thursday that he is merely confident in his abilities.
"I just think he's going to bring toughness to our offensive line," Smith said.
The Bears felt they had a good handle on Carimi's confidence because offensive line coach Mike Tice's son, Nate, plays for Wisconsin.
"I cannot wait to play for Mike Tice," Carimi said. "I think he's a great coach and one of the best coaches in the National Football League and I'm just excited to play for him."
Carimi and the rest of the Wisconsin line paved the way for a rushing attack that came up 4 yards short of producing three 1,000-yard rushers last season. Switching sides, so to speak, and playing for the Packers' rival doesn't bother Carimi, whose family is from Cottage Grove, Wis.
"It's not enemy lines over here if you look at my house," Carimi said. "I'd say we converted about 100 Packer fans to Bears fans — where they should be now."
The Bears will go into Saturday's second round still needing help at defensive tackle and possibly offensive guard, as well as wide receiver and cornerback.