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Bears optimistic about O-line

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Nov. 06, 2011 @ 2:30 a.m. ET
By Dan Parr

Coming off a bye, the Bears are about as healthy as a team could possibly hope to be halfway through the regular season. Except for the one player listed on the injury report Saturday — rookie ORT Gabe Carimi — every other Bears player fully participated in practice.

Carimi, the Bears' first-round pick this year, has been out since suffering a right knee subluxation in Week Two. He returned to practice Thursday, but after suffering a setback late in the week, he has been declared out for Monday night's game. Still, the Bears are hopeful that Carimi will soon be ready for full-time work. His anticipated return would give the Bears' offensive line, as O-line coach Mike Tice said Thursday, some "good problems."

The beatings QB Jay Cutler has become accustomed to taking each week in coordinator Mike Martz's offense have been less brutal of late as Martz has adjusted his game-planning and play-calling, albeit slowly, to better suit his personnel. Only three quarterbacks have been sacked more often than Cutler this season, but the Bears have allowed just three sacks in the past two games. Carimi's return, whenever it happens, will give the right side of the offensive line some quality depth, which is an uncommon luxury for the Bears.

"Getting better and better," Cutler said of the O-line Thursday. "We're getting there. We're getting some guys healthy, and I think that group we have right now is really consistent and has a good feel of what we're trying to get done, and the communication is a lot better."

While Carimi was out, the Bears discovered that Lance Louis, who opened the season as the starting right guard before an ankle sprain sidelined him in Weeks Two and Three, is versatile enough to slide outside and do a solid job at right tackle. Chris Spencer, who was signed as a center, has exceeded expectations and started five games at right guard.

It's likely that Tice, who considers Carimi the Bears' best offensive lineman, will kick Louis inside to right guard and have Spencer return to a swing backup role when Carimi is ready, but, for a second straight season, Tice has helped Chicago's front five weather the storm in the first half and is getting the most out of mediocre talent. The difference this season is that the Bears have a potential difference maker — if he returns and plays to his potential — in Carimi waiting in the wings for the stretch run.

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