If it wasn’t for his cool, football-tough-guy name—Frank Zombo—he might not get noticed at all.
Except for this: Zombo has been a disruptive pass-rushing force in training camp. And thanks to some injuries at outside linebacker, Zombo now is working with the first-team defense and might start Thursday night’s preseason game against Indianapolis.
What would Zombo have said a year ago if somebody told him he might line up as a starter in the preseason?
“I would have told you, ‘No way,’ ” Zombo said. “I’m not saying that’s going to happen; I don’t know. But just the opportunity, it’s pretty overwhelming.”
And with outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones out with nagging injuries, Zombo could get plenty of playing time.
“It’s a big opportunity,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Number one, we’re down on numbers at that position, so he’s going to get to play an awful lot. And for a young, undrafted guy coming in, playing a new position, I think he’s done a good job.”
And yes, the undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan occasionally allows his thoughts to drift toward the possibility of actually making the team coming out of camp.
“It’s my goal,” Zombo said. “I’m not out here counting helmets or anything like that. But it is my goal, it’s what I’m hoping for. There’s a great opportunity here. I feel like I’m taking advantage of it. I’m giving everything I have and that’s all I can ask for. Hopefully, that sticks out in their minds.”
A defensive end in college, Zombo signed with the Packers after the NFL draft came and went.
He had drawn interest from a few other teams, some of whom were looking at him as a tight end; Zombo also played wide receiver in high school. He said Detroit was the only other team that seemed serious about signing him.
Zombo then caught the attention of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene during offseason workouts, and coaches and teammates have been raving about him during camp.
“High-effort player,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Tough kid. Plays through injuries. He’s had a nice camp so far. He’s earned every rep that he’s been given and we want to increase his opportunities and see what he can do.”
But the praise for Zombo’s effort shouldn’t been seen as a slight to his athletic ability.
“He’s got some skills, and it shows in some of his pass rushes,” Greene said.
Rushing the passer was Zombo’s specialty in college, but switching to outside linebacker has presented him with new challenges. He played at nearly 270 pounds in college, and now is getting used to playing at about 250.
He also must be able to drop into pass coverage, something he said he did only once during his college career—although it worked out pretty well, as he returned an interception for a touchdown.
Zombo also must become a contributor on special teams, something he didn’t do much of in college. And for now, he must do it all while nursing an ankle injury.
“The position I’m in, I’m a free agent fighting for a spot, there’s no room to sit out,” Zombo said.
Zombo said he appreciates the help he has received from teammates such as Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar and Matthews. For now, however, he must live with the daily possibility that he might be the next player cut.
“Every time I get a phone call from a 920 number, I’m like, ’Is it my time? Am I going to get cut?”’ Zombo said. “But I guess it’s good when they start dropping off and you’re still around. As long as you’re here, the most reps you can get and the most you can put on film, I guess that’s the best.”
n In the wake of uneven preseason performances by young cornerbacks Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee, secondary coach Joe Whitt said rookie free agent Sam Shields will get a chance to play with the No. 1 defense Thursday.
“I’m going to give him the opportunity to go against these fast guys, the best quarterback in the league, and see what he does with that,” Whitt said.
n Defensive end Cullen Jenkins has a calf strain and likely won’t play Thursday. Jenkins said he is awaiting the results of an MRI but isn’t concerned that it will be a long-term injury.
n Rookie offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga returned to the field after sitting out Monday’s practice with a hip flexor.