LAKE BUENA VISTA — Jeff Garcia made his return to practice Monday, with the Bucs welcoming him back to the lineup after a nine-day absence.
But Garcia's strained right calf muscle isn't the only thing that's feeling better.
The quarterback no longer must deal with the headache created by the specter of Brett Favre's arrival, so Garcia returns to the lineup in the same capacity as when he left: as the starter.
"I'm thankful things worked out where I was able to stay and be the starting quarterback here and be able to work with my teammates," said Garcia, who practiced on a limited basis. "When it's all said and done, that's what really matters to me."
And to anyone who perhaps thought Favre would be an upgrade, Garcia offered this: "We were able to win a lot of games last year, and we could have won some more. But we were able to win the division. We want to build on what we were able to do last year. I think with me at the quarterback position, growing and getting more comfortable and getting better, I think I can help this team do some good things."
Garcia did not detail his thoughts throughout last week's emotional roller coaster, during which the Bucs flirted with the idea of trading for Favre, who was dealt to the Jets.
Through it all, Garcia was powerless. With his future in Tampa Bay being heatedly debated in print and on the airwaves, Garcia sat and stewed, unable to play because of his injury and similarly incapable of influencing the Favre talks. At that time, his Pro Bowl credentials seemed meaningless.
Asked about his reaction at the height of the story, Garcia revealed his sarcastic side.
"I'm just a journeyman, according to some people," he said. "Why should I have any hard feelings? I'm just thankful to have this job. I might pay Bruce (Allen) and Jon (Gruden) for bringing me back out here. What am I going to say?
"This business has two sides. It's obviously a game for all those who play on the field and love to play the game. But there is a business side, too. Part of teams trying to reach that championship position is trying to strengthen their team. Whether they felt like that was strengthening or not — as much as I believe I can be a strong point for this team — that's what they had to look into. So be it."
Going forward, the focus will be on Garcia, 38, regaining health. He did not participate in the full-team practice Monday but did less-strenuous position drills.
The Bucs can ill afford to rush his recovery, particularly given their other top offensive weapon — receiver Joey Galloway — is out with a weeks-old groin strain. Regarding Sunday's preseason game against New England, Gruden made no assurances.
"He's very questionable," Gruden said. "We'd like to get him to the point where he can operate at full speed again and play him."
Garcia said he likely won't play until Aug. 23 against Jacksonville. Considering starters play little to none in the final preseason game, that scenario would mean Garcia would have extensive playing time in only one game.
Will it be enough?
"I feel like preseason gets to the point where it's a little bit overdone," Garcia said. "It is important for me to be at least able to play in two games and, hopefully, get a majority (of snaps) in at least one of those games, at least a half. I feel if I can do that, I will have the necessary reps that I need to feel good about myself."
He already feels better about his status on the team.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377.