Best of the Best

T Gabe Carimi (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

This year's draft is loaded with quality offensive tackles, many of which feel they should be drafted first at the position. Yet one player very strongly believes he is head and shoulders above the rest.

Gabe Carimi is confident, very confident.

"I'm completely confident in my game," he said Thursday at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. "I know I'm going to go out there and perform. I know I'm the best tackle out there and I'm going to play like it and act like it."

The 2010 Outland Trophy Winner, given annually to the best NCAA interior lineman, firmly believes he is a step above the competition and is more game-ready than his counterparts. In a deep draft for offensive tackles, that's a bold statement.

"I'm a physical player," he said. "I've gone against four potential first round draft picks. I have a better resume going against better talent, so that makes me more ready."

Carimi -- who only missed three games as a four-year starter for Wisconsin and has started the last 49 straight games -- takes a lot of pride in his durability. He believes his avoidance of injury gives him another edge over the rest.

"I take a lot of pride in it. It talks about my durability throughout the season," he said. "Anyone looking at that will know that I can play for a long time. You have a relatively safe risk of drafting me because you know I won't be injured."

With the 29th overall pick, the Bears will certainly give Carimi a long look. He could most likely step in right away at either tackle spot and give the offensive line a much-needed boost. Yet it's unclear whether Ted Phillips and Jerry Angelo find his attitude admirable or abhorrent.

While confidence is a desirable trait among incoming rookies, overconfidence can sometimes turn a team's opinion of a player sour. Many sources within Lucas Oil Stadium have heard more than a few rumblings regarding Carimi's hubris.

Yet it doesn't seem to bother the other tackles in the draft.

"That's his opinion," said tackle Anthony Castonzo, a projected first round pick out of Boston College. "I'm not going to stand up and say I'm better than him or he's better than me. It's for the scouts to decide, based on what we've put on film."

And therein lies a potential pitfall for someone who bills himself as the best of the best. If the play on the field fails to match the way in which the player presents himself -- think Freddy Mitchell-- it becomes harder and harder for him to be taken seriously. One might wonder why a player would put so much public pressure on himself. On the other hand, if it motivates the player, then more power to him.

"I've gotten to know [Carimi]," said Castonzo. "He's a nice guy. He's a joker. He's a fun guy to be around."

It's possible Carimi has been coached to act is if he's the top dog so as to influence teams into drafting him, a la Brady Quinn in 2007. Either way, he has some talented competition looking to knock him off his pedestal.


T Derek Sherrod
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

"Personally, I feel like I fit at the top," said Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod, another projected first-round pick. "We have a pretty good offensive-tackle class. I came to compete with everyone else here and I plan on coming out on top."

The same goes for Castonzo, who has an insatiable drive to outdo the competition.

"The goal is always to be better. Eventually I want to be the best," he said. "I feel like no matter how good I am, I can always be better. That's what sets me apart. Almost my obsession to be the best."

Nate Solder, whom many feel is the top tackle in this year's draft class, is much more humble.

"That's hard for me to say," Solder said when asked if he's the top tackle. "Each one of us does things a little differently I guess."

Yet Solder does feel he has attributes that separate him from the rest.

"I think I'm a more athletic player than they are, can move a little bit better in space."

One thing is for sure, all this first-day smack talk should create some heated competition during workouts. And it will be interesting to see where Carimi lands on draft day and whether or not he can fill the large shoes he's crafted for himself.

"I'm physically stronger [than the other tackles]," he said. "I have more career starts, so I have a better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle."

Even Will Perdue may not be able to fill shoes that big.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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