As a Parade All-American from Cottage Grove -- a suburb of Madison -- senior left tackle Gabe Carimi stayed home to play for his hometown Wisconsin Badgers.
It wasn't a difficult decision, even when faced with the daunting task of replacing former All-American Joe Thomas. Thomas has made the Pro Bowl in each of the three seasons since being drafted third overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2007.
|Gabe Carimi has admirably filled in the big shoes of current Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. (US Presswire)|
Carimi didn't learn much directly from Thomas. He redshirted and was on the scout team in 2006 while Thomas was dominating defensive linemen in the Big Ten.
"I try to model my technique after him, though," Carimi added, "and he was a good leader, too."
Carimi, a potential All-American in 2010, hasn't made Wisconsin fans forget about Thomas. He has played well enough to earn praise from Big Ten coaches (second-team All-Big Ten in 2009), media (first-team all-conference last year) and NFL scouts like.
He earned freshman All-American honors after taking over at left tackle for all 13 games as a redshirt in 2007, started 10 contests as a sophomore after missing three midseason games due to a knee injury suffered against Ohio State, and then stepped up to start all 13 contests last fall.
He made headlines during his career for fasting on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. This year, the fast will last until sunset on Saturday, Sept. 18, when the Badgers play at Arizona State, but Carimi has managed to get through game days by taking IVs and gets "nothing but respect" from fans and other players for observing the holiday.
Carimi is a potential early-to-mid first-round pick because of his prototypical size (6-feet-7, 325 pounds), excellent athleticism and the importance of the left tackle position. Though he supposes opposing coaches view him as having "good feet," he believes his "upper-body strength is my best asset right now." He is capable of moving defensive ends after latching on whether in pass protection or blocking for Wisconsin's respected rushing attack.
He says he doesn't prefer pass blocking over run blocking, but like most offensive linemen, has no qualms saying "if it's third-and-short, I like those running plays. But either way, I'm going to try and dominate."
NFL offensive line coaches won't like the way Carimi bends at the waist and the number of plays on which he ends up on the ground. He focused on improving his technique this summer, stating that among his goals for the year is to "keep my feet underneath me and keep them moving while I block" to prevent having to lunge toward his man.
He also knows he "needs to be stronger against bull rushes" as shorter defensive ends can get under his pads to push him backward on occasion. He has added 100 pounds to his squat lift this summer.
"I don't know what happened -- I guess I became a man," he joked.
Although Carimi did not miss a start in 2007 or 2009, injuries have piled up. He missed three games in 2008 because of a right MCL sprain but played through various maladies last fall: a slight tear in his right MCL, left AC joint (shoulder) sprain, and even the dreaded H1N1 virus.
He dislocated his right kneecap during the Badgers' win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl last December but missed only one series. He feels 100 percent now.
"There was a cartilage flap in there that was bugging me," he said. "They trimmed it back so now I'm feeling good. I've been able to jump right in after recovery and I feel really strong."
He's going to need all that strength to handle a tough Big Ten schedule where he faces NFL defensive end prospects Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State) and Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue).
The matchup against Clayborn is the one he's looking forward to most because his injured shoulder caused him problems in last year's game against the Hawkeyes. Clayborn had six tackles, two for loss, and a sack in Iowa's 20-10 win.
"I didn't perform like I wanted to," Carimi said. "That was one of my worst games. [Clayborn] will be a good benchmark for me."
When studying that level of opponent in preparation for a game, Carimi looks for "typical moves, and the number of steps he sets with before he makes a move. Every good defensive end typically has two good moves that they try, so knowing all their tendencies really helps."
The fifth-year senior is more focused on improving his game, helping his team win a Big Ten championship and a bowl game in his final season, as well as hanging with "best friend" John Moffitt, another probable draft pick next April. An interior lineman, Moffitt is both "an animal" and "the funniest guy you'll ever meet," Carimi said.
Thoughts of playing at the next level creep into his mind, especially if he needs a mental break from his tough civil engineering class work; he needs only four credits in the spring to graduate.
Carimi states that he "loves" watching football and studying film, even asking his coaches for tape of NFL tackles.
"To see their form," Carimi said of the film study. "You can't totally take over somebody else's form -- you have to stay true to what you do -- but you can see if anything they do can work for you."
Not surprisingly, the film his coaches gave him and his linemates included some plays from Cleveland (plus the Carolina Panthers' Jordan Gross and some others) so Carimi can again study the work of Thomas.
But one thing Thomas did that Carimi won't emulate is Thomas' unconventional draft day activity: "I can't say, 'Me and my dad go fishing every draft day' like Joe did, so I'll stay at home, or go to the draft if they say I can, whatever."
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Email Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.