Colombo has been practicing with the team since Oct. 20th and his three-week practice window was set to end on Wednesday. He showed enough to be part of the 53-man roster.
It’s been nearly two years since Colombo has played in a game because of a serious knee injury he suffered during his rookie campaign. He dislocated his left kneecap on a freak play against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 18th, 2002. Nerve damage from the incident slowed the recovery process. If Colombo hadn’t remained diligent in his rehabilitation he may have never stepped back on the field.
“If you just think about what he's done, how many guys rehab for two years and in those two years really not miss a day? Every day going at the same routine, seeing baby steps and improving inch by inch and even from the time I initially saw him until lately when he was out there on the field he's come a long ways,” Lovie Smith said. “That's how it should be, good things are supposed to happen to people who work this hard. It's good to see him out there. It's a feel-good story right now, but I think he can help our team.”
While the Bears signed Qasim Mitchell to three-year extension that takes him through 2008, there is no guarantee he will remain the starter at left tackle.
Colombo started five games at left tackle in ‘02 and looked to be the long-term answer at the position before going down. There is no immediate plan to have Colombo to replace Mitchell, but don’t be surprised to see an in season competition between the two.
“There would have to be competition, yes,” said offensive coordinator Terry Shea. “I’m not saying that it’s going to go one way or the other.”
The remainder of the season can be used as an evaluation process to see if Colombo can be a contributor heading into next year. Going against a practice dummy or a teammate in practice is one step, but facing an opposing defensive end that gets paid to get to the quarterback is a different story.
“We talk about guys having a little trouble when they've missed training camp or a couple weeks,” Smith said. “Think about being out of it for two years. We're going to take our time. He's not on the schedule where he has to play tomorrow.”
The six-foot-8, 325-pound Colombo is anxious to play after being an observer for the team’s last 30 games, but patience is something he’s had to have in order to get through the downtime.
“I learned that there are many ways to work at football without game or practice time,” Colombo said. “I studied film, I read playbooks, I worked with weights. I watched just about every game that was on TV an analyzed the plays. I really wanted to progress faster but that didn’t happen. So I learned to take advantage of the situation and do mental reps instead.”
Over the past three years Gandy started 30 games for the Bears at three different positions.
A third-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2001, Gandy wasn’t a Jerry Angelo selection and when it came down to making room for Colombo he was the odd man out.
“Mike of course meant an awful lot, has meant an awful lot to us. But, right now our guards are Ruben Brown and Rex Tucker, (they) have really stepped up and played well,” Smith said. “There's nothing he did wrong, anything like that.”
It came down to choosing between Gandy and Aaron Gibson, who hasn’t played a down all season. In the end, the depth at guard was perceived to be better than at tackle.
In other roster news, DT Darrell Campbell will begin his three-week practice window on Wednesday. Campbell has spent the entire season on the reserve/non-football injury list and will be able to practice with the team for the next 21 days before having to be removed from the reserve roster on Dec. 1. Campbell is an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, but before his injury was projected to be a first day selection.