GREEN BAY – Several reasons factored into why Frank Zombo was practicing with the first-string defense on Monday's training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field, but above all, his play merited such a decision.
"Frank Zombo has earned some more reps, and that’s a credit to his performance," said head coach Mike McCarthy following practice.
Zombo lined up with the first-string defense at right outside linebacker in both as the Packers began preparation for their third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, historically the exhibition game where the starters see the most action.
Based upon his play through two preseason games, Zombo has been one of the more productive players on defense. He's one of only two players on the team to register a sack, his coming in the third quarter of the Seahawks game when he dropped Seattle quarterback Charlie Whitehurst for a 3-yard loss while working against tackle Joe Toledo.
He's also the only player on the team to have a quarterback hurry in both preseason games. In addition, he led the team in tackles against Seattle with five including one for a loss of yardage.
"He brings the physicality that you’re looking for as an outside linebacker," said McCarthy of Zombo. "Everything we start with is speed to power on the rush and how you want to play the runs and so forth. I think he’s done a very good job with that. High-effort player. Tough kid. Play 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."
Even though his play helped him earn playing time during training camp, the injury situation at linebacker has also factored into the equation as well.
Brandon Chillar, who had been working at outside linebacker basically since Week 2 of camp, moved back to inside linebacker on Monday where he worked with the first-team unit the entire practice.
The Packers have been especially short-handed on the inside seeing as incumbent starter A.J. Hawk recently injured his ankle last Thursday and was held out of the Seattle preseason game. Alex Joseph has also been out of action for the past few weeks with a thigh injury. Plus the Packers have been bringing back Nick Barnett slowly after having an offseason knee scope.
So when Chillar slid back inside last evening, that opened the door for Zombo to start on the right side opposite left outside linebacker Brady Poppinga. Zombo had been playing primarily on the left side prior to last night.
"Since I've played left side for the last couple weeks, you get familiar with it," said Zombo. "And then when you switch over sides, it's a little different. But like I said, with a little bit of practice this week, wherever I play, I'll get used to it."
It also hasn't hurt that the Packers have their fair share of nagging injuries at outside linebacker as well. Clay Matthews has missed the past couple weeks as he recovers from a hamstring strain. A back injury kept Brad Jones out of the Seattle game, although McCarthy categorized him as day-to-day and said he has a shot to play in the Colts game.
Zombo is just trying to adjust to playing linebacker after being a defensive end in college. It hasn't been the pass rush that's been new to him; he's used to that. It's been dropping back into pass coverage.
"I guess the pass rushing aspect is pretty much the same," said Zombo. "The power rushes, I used that a lot in college, collapsing the pocket. But yeah, dropping back in coverage is definitely something new.
"OTAs definitely helped. Getting all that down during the offseason, just going through it. Then when I had to learn it again when it came to camp, it stuck a little better."
Zombo has a golden opportunity to make a lasting impression on the Packers both during practice and in the final two preseason games. He appears to have leap-frogged Cyril Obiozor on the depth chart, but a roster spot is not yet a given.
"It's my goal," said Zombo. "I'm not out there counting helmets or anything like that, but it is my goal. That's what I hope for. There's a great opportunity here. I feel like I'm taking advantage of it, giving it everything I have, and that's all I can hope for. Just hopefully it sticks out in their minds."
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