- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears guard Gabe Carimi missed his second consecutive organized team activity on Tuesday, raising questions about his long-term future with the team that made him the 29th overall selection of the 2011 NFL draft.
NFL organized team activities are not mandatory, but the Bears historically have near-perfect attendance. Being present this offseason would seem to be of particular importance because the Bears are learning a new offense under head coach Marc Trestman.
"That's going to be tough," Bears running back Matt Forte said of Carimi skipping OTAs. "I don't play his position. But I think it's probably pretty important to be here right now. Just with all the new faces around, and the new offense especially. In the meetings, we're not going over the same stuff. We're going over new stuff every day just to be exposed to new stuff and get ready for training camp.
"Gabe is very intelligent. Don't get me wrong. He could come in and learn the playbook during camp and be good then. He knows himself better than anybody else does. He knows what he needs to get better at. So if he needs to get stronger, and that's what he's doing, that's good for him. He knows that when he comes into camp, he's going to have to learn all this stuff. I'm pretty sure he probably has a playbook, and he can read it on his own. He knows what he has to do, and I guess he's doing it."
As ESPNChicago.com reported on Monday, Carimi informed the Bears at the conclusion of the club's voluntary three-day minicamp on April 18 that he intended to continue his offseason training in Arizona and away from the team. Carimi has battled knee issues since entering the NFL that limited the former first-round pick to two starts during his rookie season. Many also believe Carimi's health contributed to the decline in his play last year when he lost his starting right tackle job 11 games into the regular season and finished his sophomore campaign bouncing around from right guard back to right tackle.
A source close to Carimi said the offensive lineman believes working out in Arizona gives him the best opportunity to avoid the knee problems that plagued him since early in his rookie season.
"I know Gabe's working out hard and getting his body ready to compete and putting himself in a situation to make this team," Bears center Roberto Garza said. "It's all about putting yourself in the best situation physically and mentally. I can't speak for him. I'm sure he's working hard and getting better. "Obviously, coming off of last year, he wants to get stronger. He wants to do all those things. (Strength and conditioning) coach (Mike) Clark is doing a great job with the team here, and he's, Gabe, is doing his part in Arizona or wherever he's at by training. "
Even before Carimi decided to train independently this offseason, his roster spot was far from secure. Trestman said he viewed Carimi as a guard, not a tackle, when he met with the media last month, and that was prior to the organization selecting guard Kyle Long with the 20th overall choice of the 2013 NFL draft. The Bears also signed veteran guard Matt Slauson in free agency to bolster a group that already included second-year guard James Brown and veteran guard/center Edwin Williams. While the Bears' fifth-round draft pick, Jordan Mills, is beginning his professional career at right tackle, the Bears think Mills has the versatility to one day slide inside to guard.
That could leave Carimi as the odd man out.
Carimi has two years remaining on a contract that includes a prorated signing bonus of $907,918 in each of the next two seasons. If the Bears cut Carimi after June 1, the club would be able to evenly spread out that dead salary-cap money over the next two years, instead of taking the entire hit in 2013. Carimi is also due to earn a base salary of $1,016,458 this upcoming season, a rather high number for a player not currently projected to be a starter.
In addition to Carimi, safety Tom Zbikowski did not attend Tuesday's session due to a prior commitment with the Chicago Fire Department. However, Zbikowski returned to Halas Hall before the conclusion of the OTA but was not seen on the practice field. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (hip), kicker Robbie Gould (calf), tight end Gabe Miller and wide receiver Marcus Rucker were all present but did not participate.
14hEric D. Williams