Outland Trophy Winner Gabe Carimi Still Working on His Game
"Sure, he can run block, but he can't pass protect. He's weak in that regard. Doesn't set himself well. He's got to learn it."
It is the cult of the NFL Draft, and every year it follows the same strange meandering, where a player who has spent his entire career building a first-class resume suddenly finds himself staring at criticism he has never heard.
This year's case-in-point might be Gabe Carimi, who spent four years doing a lot of things right for the University of Wisconsin. To the point that he started all four years, and as a senior was a consensus All-America, the Big Ten Lineman of the Year and the winner of the Outland Trophy, the award given to the nation's best interior lineman.
Yet here was Carimi the past two weeks, working out and refining his skills at the O-Line Academy in suburban Cleveland run by former NFL center (and present FanHouse analyst) LeCharles Bentley.
"I always want to improve," Carimi said. "It's a fun challenge."
Carimi, 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, will play in the Senior Bowl next week, an occasion where pro scouts and personnel folks line the practice field to scout players. Not everyone in Carimi's stratosphere plays. The thinking: Why take a chance on hurting a high ranking at an All-Star Game.
"I have nothing to hide," Carimi said. "I don't question my game. I know I can play better, even better than people think I have."
He admitted he could always improve, too. Most of the analyst chatter dealt with pass protection, a knock he said was a product of system, not anything he didn't do.
"It was little things in my game that I wasn't taught that could improve it," he said. "Some people would like to say unathletic, where that's not the case. I was just inefficient in my pass pro.
"I've already started to change that up and be more efficient."
Bentley's Academy might be the only one in the country for linemen. He tailors it to guys who are bigger, sets up film study and has a partial field and weight room for guys to work. Players come from all over the country to learn, work out and improve.
Bentley's main focus with Carimi has been footwork, getting him to "explode" out of his stance and use the right technique. As Carimi said, it's nothing he can't do, but it is something he's never been taught.
"I was in the program that runs the ball first and passes the ball second," he said. "We didn't have any three-step drop passes. It was all five and seven. So to go from one extreme to the other ... I got real good at run blocking. I got real good at play action, when all you have to do is get up in the guy's grill. That's what we did a lot."
Wisconsin ran extremely well, averaging 245.7 yards per game, which ranked 12th in the nation. The Badgers also went to the Rose Bowl, where they ran for 226 yards in a two-point loss to TCU.
Despite all that reality, Carimi hears murmurs about what he can't do, rather than what he did.
In one sense, there was frustration. In another, there was determination.
"I did great things at Wisconsin, a lot of wonderful things," he said. "But if you're not trying to improve yourself, you are not getting better. So I'm making the changes to make my game the best."
Carimi has one class to finish before getting his degree in civil engineering, and he's taking that remotely while he works on his chosen profession. Bentley's Academy focuses on training for football, not training for the scouting combine or a school's Pro Day. For Carimi, the goal was simple.
"The point is to have an unbelievable week at the Senior Bowl," he said. "Make sure I'm not rusty coming in. Make sure I'm coming in crisp. A lot of people are training for combine stuff. I make sure that my technique is sharp, and I'm practicing that.
"It's refining things. Simple stuff like balancing up my stance. That's something you're going to be consistent on every time. It's something that you're already in the position and you never have to think about. So you can get the consistent results all the time.
"The couple weeks I've had with LeCharles, it's there now. It's not going to go away. It's ingrained."