Garza Knows his Role

Lake Forest - When you're filling for a future Hall of Famer the chances of staying on the field long-term are not good. That's the situation Roberto Garza finds himself in with Ruben Brown returning to practice for the first time in nearly three weeks.

"Ruben has been in the league (a long time) and an eight-time Pro Bowler, so he's one of the best at what he does," Garza said. "I'm just trying to hold it down while he gets better and gets back."

Garza had 31 games of starting experience before coming to Chicago. He signed a one-year deal with the Bears in the off-season with the hopes of competing with Terrence Metcalf for the right guard job.

Metcalf got the bulk of training camp reps, as Garza worked at both center and guard.

With Brown in his 11th year, his better days are behind him at 33. His contract runs through 2006. With three starters 30 or older, the Bears need to find younger options on the offensive line.

Garza will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so he's playing for an extension or for another team to give him a long-term deal.

"I'm just going out there and play hard and let all that stuff take care of itself at the end of the year," Garza said.

The biggest reason Garza didn't garner more interest on the free agent market is his right knee. He has no anterior cruciate ligament following a serious injury in late 2003, which has led many to wonder how long he'll be able to last with such a condition.

"A lot of people question my knee and if I could play without an ACL," Garza said. "Obviously I'm going out there and playing and keep doing what I did last year and what I did in the past."

Although Garza admits at some point he will need a procedure on the knee, he currently has the same regiment before the procedure to remove it.

"Right now I feel like I don't have anything going on with that knee," Garza said. "So I'll just continue to keep playing and keep training and keep preparing myself like I have an ACL.

While it's uncommon for a player to be able to perform without an ACL, it's not completely unheard of. Garza points to RB Thurman Thomas, who went on to have a productive career despite the absence of the ligament.

Garza would like to stay in Chicago past this season. He went to the postseason with the Atlanta Falcons last year and sees a similar future for the Bears.

"Obviously I like it here and I think we're starting something special and I'd like to be a part of it," Garza said. "I have no control over that, I've just got to keep playing and put myself in the best position possible."

The six-foot-2, 300-pound Garza has started the last two games. The running game hasn't dipped with him in the lineup. Thomas Jones has rushed for 228 yards over that time, which has helped him jump to sixth in the NFL with 641 yards.

Even though Garza knows he's on borrowed time until Brown returns, he's taken something away from being able to help the team in back-to-back wins.

"Obviously when you're in a backup role and you haven't gotten a chance to play during the season, it's tough to feel like a part of the team cause you haven't contributed," Garza said. "It feels a lot better when you're playing and you've got to enjoy those games that you have to play."

Not everything has been smooth for Garza. When he took over for Brown in the second quarter against the Browns, his first snap resulted in a facemask penalty that negated a touchdown pass. Two plays later a blown assignment led to a sack.

"That's what being a backup is. You have to be ready to come in at any given time and obviously at that time those first few plays were terrible," Garza said. "I had to get past that and continue to play and never commit those mistakes again.

"You can't let one play or two plays get you down, but luckily for me after those two I didn't commit anything else so I was able to get my confidence back and obviously that helps."

Whether Brown returns this Sunday or sometime in the near future, the Bears can say the same about his replacement.

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