TAMPA — Gabe Carimi said Tuesday he will be a vastly better player now that he's further removed from the major right knee injury sustained in 2011.
That wasn't the case last season, Carimi, 24, admits.
In his first day with the Bucs after Sunday's trade, Carimi said he skipped offseason workouts with the Bears in order to strengthen his knee in private workouts.
"I think it just set me back last year," said Carimi, who partially dislocated his right kneecap against the Saints and had multiple surgeries. "I wasn't at full strength. I'm just looking forward to this year. I was just trying to get my knee right, trying to be the best I could be. It feels good."
Carimi lined up as a backup right tackle on the first day of a three-day mandatory minicamp. (Demar Dotson remains the starter.) Carimi's ability to play guard is also attractive, but he makes the line better regardless of where or how much he plays, Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
"With the offensive line, the goal is let's get the best five football players on the field," Schiano said. "Sometimes, the fifth-best player might not have the skill set (to play multiple positions). That's when you don't have your best five players out there. But Carimi can. So now it's a matter of finding out what the best combination is."
WIDE OPEN: Two position battles that will extend into training camp are kick and punt returner. Last season, the Bucs ranked 30th in kickoffs (averaging 20.3 yards) and 19th in punts (9.0).
One candidate is WR Eric Page, a standout return man and receiver at Toledo. Page, whom Denver signed as an undrafted free agent last year but released after he tore his ACL, is getting many of the punt return opportunities during practice.
Kick return duties might go to RB Michael Smith. Smith and rookie RB Mike James are competing to back up Doug Martin. Brian Leonard is the presumptive third-down back.
TWO-SPORT STAR?: NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne and Daytona International Speedway president and Tampa native Joie Chitwood were guests Tuesday. Kahne who drives the No. 5 car, played catch after practice with the Bucs' No. 5, QB Josh Freeman.
"I've been to plenty of football games over the years," said Kahne, a Seahawks season-ticket holder. "But I've never done anything like this."
Kahne and Freeman exchanged honorary uniforms after practice, and Chitwood gave Schiano a racing helmet emblazoned with the Bucs logo and autograph of every Sprint Cup driver.
Miscellaneous: Invited to practice on a tryout basis were: CB Michael Adams, CB William Middleton, WR Seyi Ajirotutu, WR Derek Hagan and C Ivory Wade.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.