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Training Camp Report: Zombo Earning More Reps

Posted Aug 23, 2010

Rookie linebacker Frank Zombo admits that every time his cell phone rings and he sees the 920 area code, he wonders if he’s about to get cut. But if the non-drafted free agent keeps playing the way he’s playing, he may not have to get so anxious about those local digits anymore.

Coming off a strong performance in Seattle on Saturday night, and with injuries still hampering the linebacker position, Zombo was taking first-team snaps in the nickel defense in practice on Monday night.

Clay Matthews remains out with a hamstring injury, and he said after practice he’s aiming to return for the preseason finale at Kansas City next week. Brad Jones also is still out with a shoulder injury, as he went through only the jog-through portion of practice.

Meanwhile veteran Brandon Chillar, who was moved from inside to outside linebacker earlier in camp, was back on the inside Monday night as the Packers practiced their nickel defense extensively. That left Zombo to work with the first team along with veteran Brady Poppinga on the outside.

“He’s earned every rep that he’s been given and we want to increase his opportunities and see what he can do,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.

That could mean getting the starting nod in Thursday night’s preseason contest against Indianapolis at Lambeau Field. That would mark an impressive rise for the Central Michigan product, who not only converted from defensive end but was being looked at as a potential tight end by some teams during the pre-draft process.

“Coach (Kevin) Greene said to me, ‘A year ago, what would you think if you were going be starting for the Green Bay Packers in the third preseason game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts?’” Zombo said. “I would have told you, ‘No way.’ I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I don’t know. But just the opportunity, it’s pretty overwhelming.”

He’s getting the opportunity precisely because he hasn’t looked overwhelmed by the pro game. In two preseason contests, Zombo has made an impact. Against Cleveland, he registered a quarterback hit that led to an interception for the defense, and against Seattle he added a sack and a solid tackle at the line of scrimmage on a swing pass in the flat.

That latter play was maybe his most impressive, considering that dropping into coverage is the skill he’s had the least familiarity with during the conversion to outside linebacker. Zombo feels his technique is still very much a work in progress, but he’s keeping assignment errors to a minimum and soaking up all the knowledge he can from his position coach, Greene, one of the best 3-4 outside linebackers ever to play.

He’s also proving to be a pretty tough guy, coming back much earlier than expected from an ankle injury (sustained the first week of camp) so that he wouldn’t miss any preseason games. If he does end up starting on Thursday night, it will be his best chance yet to state his case for a roster spot, going against the No. 1 offense of the defending AFC champions.

“I’m just giving great effort,” Zombo said. “I think they’re acknowledging that. I’m just giving it everything I have, taking coaching, so I have no regrets if I make it or I don’t.

“I’m not out here counting helmets or anything like that. But it is my goal (to make the final roster). That’s what I hope for. There’s a great opportunity here. I feel like I’m taking advantage of it. I’m giving it everything I have, and that’s all I can ask for. Hopefully it sticks out in their minds.”

On the move again
Chillar’s move back to inside linebacker doesn’t mean his time at outside linebacker is over. McCarthy said he wants to utilize Chillar’s flexibility, and with A.J. Hawk on a “trial return” to practice from an ankle injury (working on the scout team rather than with the first unit) and Alex Joseph still not back from his quad injury, Chillar was back at his old inside spot.

“It’s the same thing as always -- the more you can do, the more valuable you are, and the more I want to help the team,” Chillar said. “I just do what they tell me.”

Chillar felt he made some progress as an outside linebacker in the Seattle game, so he wasn’t going to assume the move back inside was permanent. He hinted that it may have to do with how the coaches want the defense to match up specifically against the Colts’ offense on Thursday.

“Just trying to have everybody ready in our different personnel groups to continue to build that depth chart,” McCarthy said. “Brandon Chillar is obviously versatile to play inside or outside.”

Taking the hit
Running back Ryan Grant didn’t get a whole lot of work in the Seattle game, with five carries and one pass reception. But he got enough to know he’s over the concussion he sustained in the preseason opener against Cleveland.

“I wanted to play physical and make sure that I was getting hit, and then (also) hitting (the defender), because I hadn’t been and wanted to see how I’d bounce back,” said Grant, who took a blow to the head on his third carry against Cleveland and did not return to the game. “I want to clean some things up of course, but I felt good.”

Grant also said he changed helmets and he’s now using one of the newer models that’s designed with different impact absorption than some older models.

Injury/participation update
Rookie first-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga dropped out of practice with what McCarthy termed a hip flexor. McCarthy said it had been bothering Bulaga for a while and it flared up again Monday night.

Defensive end Cullen Jenkins also dropped out of practice with a calf strain.

Other than the aforementioned linebackers, also sitting out were running back Quinn Porter, who sprained an ankle in Seattle, and tackle/guard Allen Barbre, whose injury was not specified. Running back Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring) remained out, as did the three PUP players – safety Atari Bigby (ankle), cornerback Al Harris (knee) and running back James Starks (hamstring).

Additional coverage - Aug. 23

 
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