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Bears OT Carimi easing way back from knee surgery

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Gabe Carimi felt it as soon as Derrick Rose crumbled to the court in the playoffs, that jolt of sympathy one athlete experiences when another goes down.

Never mind that their injuries weren't quite the same. Or that they play different sports.

Carimi, the Chicago Bears' offensive lineman, understood.

"The hardest part is that you want to be out there and you just can't," he said.

When Rose will return for the Chicago Bulls remains to be seen after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee in the playoff-opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Carimi is basically back.

He took a big step in his recovery from a season-ending injury to his right knee on Tuesday when he participated in organized team activities for the first time. Carimi was a spectator as planned on Wednesday, but he expects to be back on the field Thursday and take part in all sessions next week.

"I feel real happy with the progress I've made," he said. "There are points where you're like, `Is this ever going to get better?' Obviously it has. I feel great now."

Carimi is expected to start again at right tackle after getting the nod for the first two games last year. Then, just as his career was beginning, his rookie season came to an end when he dislocated his knee against New Orleans in the second game. He returned to practice briefly before having an arthroscopic procedure in November.

He also had surgery in late December to repair connective tissue around his patella and medial collateral ligament.

"I'm real confident it's not going to happen again," Carimi said. "I got the surgeries to prevent the knee dislocation. I have a knee brace with the patellar protection in it. It just feels stronger than it has. I'm real comfortable with that knee injury not happening. Obviously, anyone can get rolled up on and anyone can tear ligaments. It's just how the play forms, it's the luck of the draw. Anyone can get hurt on any play."

The Bears can hardly afford to lose him again.

For all the big changes they made in the offseason, for all the holes they filled, some big questions remain. Age on defense is one. Another is the offensive line, the same unit that has ranked among the league's worst the past few years.

Even though Jay Cutler is healthy and new general manager Phil Emery made some big moves in other areas, acquiring Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, the blocking remains a question.

"Right now, it's hard to tell," Cutler said last week when asked about the line. "We don't have any contact out here. The CBA limits what we we're able to do until training camp. We can't really get a good look at those guys, and I don't think it would be fair to any of those guys competing to say where they're at until we get in camp and we get the pads on and we see what we've got."

The Bears see the potential for an explosive offense with Cutler firing bullets to big receivers such as Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery, going deep to the speedy Devin Hester and throwing or handing off to Matt Forte - assuming the running back's contract situation gets resolved.

The question lingers, though. Is this offensive line good enough?

"We just keep on trucking along, work on our assignments, work on our technique," Carimi said. "We just know that we're going to be good."

It helps that Carimi is getting better.

His knee responded well after he participated Tuesday on a limited basis. As for when he'll be practicing without restrictions? He couldn't say.

"It's going to be a constant reassessment, but it feels pretty good, and the trainers are happy with my progress, and the coaches are, too, so we're just going to keep on trucking along here," he said.

Last season was frustrating. He picked up what he could from watching, but that was no substitute for being on the field.

"I don't know if there were really any positives out of the whole situation," he said. "I was here, still with the guys, watching film and seeing what they were doing, but there's no substitution for actually going out there and doing it. You can say all you want, `This is what I would do, this is what we should be doing,' but that only goes so far when you have only 7 seconds to assess it on the field, and you have the play call, and you have to know a lot of different other factors. It doesn't really quite carry over."

Notes: LS Patrick Mannelly says he's been snapping and running and is on track to be ready for training camp after tearing an ACL last season. "The way rehab has progressed and everything, I feel great," he said. "A lot of dealing with an ACL is getting your confidence back and that's coming back real good. I feel real comfortable."

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