- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Carimi entered the league in 2011, high expectations followed him as the Chicago Bears' first-round pick and the 29th overall selection. He was the starting left tackle and Outland Trophy winner at Wisconsin, the same school that produced five-time All-Pro and perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas.
The folks in Chicago expected Carimi to come in and give the Bears an immediate jolt. Instead, he suffered an immediate setback, dislocating his right knee cap in the second game of his rookie season against the New Orleans Saints -- the week after he made his NFL debut against the Falcons. He then dislocated it again tripping over an item in the Bears' training room.
"It was just having to go through the process of things taking longer than it should," Carimi said of his bout with knee issues. "When it's an injury that you haven't dealt with and it takes longer than you want … and then knowing that you're not able to do what you're capable of doing, it's frustrating. But I feel like I'm kind of leaving all that stuff in the past now and moving forward. I feel healthy now. That's all that matters."
Whatever the Falcons can get out of Carimi will be a bonus. He started 16 games in two seasons with the Bears before being trading to Tampa Bay in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. He was then released by the Buccaneers shortly after Lovie Smith, who coached Carimi with the Bears, took over as the Bucs' new head coach.
One Chicago tie helped bring Carimi to Atlanta. New Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice held the same role with the Bears and always expressed faith in Carimi. Tice had also vouched for Carimi before he was drafted. Tice's son, Nate, was a reserve quarterback at Wisconsin and teammate of Carimi's.
"I feel like he's helped give me a good opportunity to have a positive impact on this team," Carimi said of Coach Tice. "I know there's lot to prove, and I feel like I can prove it."
It's a low-risk situation, from the Falcons' perspective. Carimi signed a one-year and was added to provide depth on the right side of the line, not to assume a starting role. Carimi could play either right tackle or right guard, and even played some jumbo tight end last season with the Bucs.
"I really doesn't matter where I am," Carimi said. "Whenever they feel I can help impact the team, that's where I want to be."
Tice obviously believes he can motivate Carimi into being a contributor for a line that struggled miserably last season. Garrett Reynolds, formerly the Falcons' starting right guard, was released Tuesday. The future of former starting center Peter Konz, Carimi's roommate at Wisconsin, remains in doubt, although Konz apparently is living in the weight room this offseason.
The Falcons seem likely to add a starting-caliber guard in free agency, with starting tackle Sam Baker back from injury, and they could target an offensive tackle such as Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews with the sixth-overall pick in the draft. Such a trio of linemen would be counted upon heavily.
Anything from Carimi would exceed expectations, although critics would say he has little to offer.
"I don't read too many articles, so I don't look at expectations like that," Carimi said. "I just want to be the best I can be."