Carimi key to keeping Cutler upright

Consistency of second-year right tackle more important than whoever wins left tackle competition

Contrary to prevailing thought, the Bears offensive tackle who represents the key to protecting Jay Cutler this season does not write poetry.

He tells story problems.

"We had an all-out blitz,'' Gabe Carimi recalled Monday of a play against the Redskins. "They brought eight guys. (Cutler) changed the protection and we were able to get a shot down the field.''

Carimi elaborated how the Bears' new flexibility made Cutler's small but significant adjustment at the line of scrimmage more possible with coordinator Mike Tice than it was under predecessor Mike Martz — an injection of common sense that benefits everybody.

This open Mike has inspired Bears offensive players to say plenty.

"It's a smart offense and Coach Tice is not going to put anyone in (a) position they can't do their job,'' Carimi said. "The quarterback gets to check more, which is good.''

In theory the empowerment of the quarterback minimizes the Bears' weakness at left tackle — a position paid inordinate attention this preseason. In reality it makes the consistency of Carimi more important than whoever wins the competition between J'Marcus Webband Chris Williams.

In other words, the left tackle is the wrong guy to focus on among Bears offensive linemen. The correct tackle to watch is the right one. Who does more things right anyway.

If Carimi keeps developing into a reliable pass-protector, offensive coordinators as adaptable as Tice can find schematic ways with help from tight ends and running backs to compensate for one iffy tackle. The problem last year was the Bears started two tackles who needed help after Carimi suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2, exposing Webb's inexperience and compounding Martz's inflexibility.

With Carimi's knee stable enough that "I don't even think about it,'' he said Monday, the formula for the Bears' explosive offense in 2012 seems simple without factoring in the left tackle. If Carimi stays healthy, Cutler will stay upright.

For that to stay true, Carimi must show better lateral quickness against elite edge rushers and prove he is more than just the strongest member of a relatively weak line. But counting on Carimi to emerge as a dependable starter makes more sense than expecting too much out of either Webb or Williams.

Unwittingly, Cutler summed up after the Redskins game how both players have failed to distinguish themselves.

"I don't even know which one's out there," Cutler said.

Something tells me Cutler will know who's in the huddle Friday night against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Bears just hope he can remember everybody's name if he gets sacked, unlike their trip there two years ago. One thing's certain: The defensive line of the defending Super Bowl champs will show the Bears offensive line how much it has — or hasn't — progressed.

Asked about the Giants pass rush, Cutler smirked in midseason form. He called it, "one of the best in the league.''

"Let's face it, this is going to be the week,'' Tice added. "We'll all know when we watch the game.''

They might know now if Webb had matured enough for his production to finally outweigh his potential. Alas, after 28 NFL starts at offensive tackle, Webb has made as deep of an impression around Chicago in verse than in pads.

"Every morning I wake up, and get out of bed, while thoughts of preparing to battle dance in my head,'' Webb posted on Facebook as part of a poetic response to the scrutiny.

What rhymes with swing tackle? Funny how nobody at Halas Hall remembers any sonnets penned by Jim Covert or John Tait.

The Bears preach patience with Webb. But I wonder if someone so consumed with being popular — the self-appointed head of "JWebb Nation,'' also posted a video of him ordering fast food — understands all it takes to become proven in the NFL. Those concerns made it all the more curious when Lovie Smith made it clear that Webb had won the job before the first exhibition game. Why not let a real competition play out?

While Webb's ceiling might be higher than Williams', it means nothing to a Bears team built to win now if the 24-year-old cannot figure out how to reach it sooner than later. I would lean toward starting Williams, a serious veteran whose best might not approach Webb's but whose worst should kill fewer drives too.

Williams offers steady but unspectacular play, which by the end of preseason could cause the Bears to conclude he fits best at the suddenly unsettled left guard spot he started nine games in 2011. The best five linemen should play.

As long as one of them remains Carimi, the Bears "O" still looks in line for major improvement.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh
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