While J'Marcus Webb vs. Chris Williams at left tackle is getting most of the attention at Bears training camp, Gabe Carimi vs. Gabe Carimi is the ''battle'' to watch on the Bears' offensive line.
The winner of Webb-Williams is still going to be J'Marcus Webb or Chris Williams this season -- not Joe Thomas or Jake Long. But the fate of Carimi -- who according to Mike Tice was already the Bears' best offensive lineman last year after six NFL quarters until he suffered a dislocated kneecap -- has a much greater variance in production. If he picks up where he left off, he can become a Pro Bowl caliber right tackle who solidifies a key position on the line. If he struggles to recover from the injury or suffers another injury, the Bears will be scrambling as they did last season.
Even the ever-confident Carimi isn't sure how it's going to play out. As practice opens Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Carimi is ready to go all-out as he re-starts his rookie season.
''I just need to go prove myself,'' Carimi said. ''Just go out there, work hard and follow my teammates and my leaders and I think I'll be OK.
''I don't have any [health] concerns. Just ready to go. Everyone's happy with my progress so far. I feel it's going well. I came into this ready for this [training camp]. I just have to give it my all. I still have a lot to learn.''
The 6-7 Carimi starts training camp at 306 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than he was last season. ''I leaned out a little bit -- just wanted to make sure I could handle the knee and everything. But I feel great. I've been running around ... no problems.''
The offseason provided a lot of enthusiasm for Bears fans. But by far the biggest cause for concern was the team's decision to virtually stand pat with their offensive line -- adding some depth but no sure-fire starters. They conspicuously passed on Stanford guard David DeCastro to take Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin with the 19th pick of the first round. DeCastro, a possible top-10 pick who is considered by some talent evaluators as the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson, went to the Steelers at No. 24 and is slated to start as a rookie.
The Bears are counting on Carimi to give them an upgrade at right tackle, which would allow Lance Louis, who subbed at right tackle for Carimi last year, to play his best position, right guard. Theoretically, that would upgrade two positions without a roster addition.
From what both players have shown at each position, it's not nearly as far-fetched as most best-laid offensive line plans the Bears have had in the past decade. It might even work.
But no matter what happens in training camp, Carimi himself knows the regular season will tell the tale.
''I haven't put on pads since I got injured. That's the main thing,'' Carimi said. ''I have to see how that all pans out. I felt good in camp. Was moving around, staying around people when they made their inside move. But you don't actually know if you're going to be able to engage and slow them down. It's a whole different ballgame once you put on the pads. So we'll have to wait and see.''