Notebook: Zombo Making The Most Of Playing Time

When there were injuries at the position during the preseason, rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo took advantage of increased opportunities to make the team as a non-drafted free agent. Now with Brad Jones’ status unknown because of a knee injury, an increased role for Zombo could once again be on the way.

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Zombo, who made the transition from defensive end at Central Michigan to outside linebacker as a pro, earned his first NFL start on Monday night in Chicago with Jones inactive due to the injury. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that he will continue in that role until Jones shows he can remain healthy on a consistent basis.

"Frank Zombo is the starting outside linebacker today, in my opinion," McCarthy said. "It is something we have talked about here since I have arrived. You have to be available and you need to be accountable, and Brad is going through an injury situation right now.

"I'm not sure if he is healthy enough to play Sunday, so we're going to play the prepared players."

Jones sustained the knee injury early in the Week 2 game against Buffalo, but did return to the game. He was limited all three days of practice leading into the Bears game, and was inactive for the first time since Week 2 of last season. Moving ahead with Zombo as the starter for now is as much about the coaches knowing that he will be ready for Detroit and being able to prepare him and the rest of the defense accordingly, as opposed to not knowing where Jones is at with his injury until later in the week.

"I felt as a staff, particularly the last two weeks, that we have been way too up-and-down during the course of the week of trying to prepare players based on their health situation, and waiting on a certain number of individuals to get healthy by the end of the week," McCarthy said. "So it is something that I actually addressed in the team meeting today, ... the ability to prepare and play the prepared player over going back and forth all week."

The outside linebacker spot was hit particularly hard by injuries during the preseason, with starting left outside linebacker Clay Matthews missing all four games with a hamstring injury and Jones sidelined for all but one contest due to an injured shoulder.

After the 254-pound Zombo posted five tackles and a sack in reserve role at Seattle in the second preseason game, he was given the starting nod the next week against Indianapolis and showed up in a big way. He led the team with nine tackles and a sack/forced fumble of Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning that linebacker Robert Francois returned 35 yards to the Indianapolis 2-yard line to set up a Matt Flynn touchdown pass on the next play. Zombo finished the preseason as the team leader in both tackles (18) and sacks (two).

"I saw it in the preseason," Matthews said. "We brought in three rookie free agents (at outside linebacker), and I told him that I really thought he had a good chance of making this team if he kept at it and continued to know his stuff. He worked hard, and that's the biggest thing you want to see from guys who are trying to make this team is their progression as a player and how hard they are willing to work. That's what he has continued to do. It's a fantastic story."

Zombo saw limited time in the first two regular-season games with Jones back in the starting lineup, but registered a sack of Michael Vick at Philadelphia despite only playing four snaps. Against the Bears on Monday night, he sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the third play of the game, and added another hit on Cutler in the third quarter to force an interception, but the play was called back due to a helmet-to-helmet hit by Zombo. With the two sacks through three games, he is tied with Lions defensive tackle and No. 2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh for the lead among NFL rookies.

"He is young and he is only going to continue to get better," Matthews said. "I know with myself, I was watching Detroit film from last year and I wasn't very good. I had a few moves here and there, but I think overall as a pass rusher and outside linebacker, my overall knowledge, I feel like I am light years ahead of where I was last year.

"I think the same goes for him. Being a young guy and making his first start on Monday Night Football, I thought he played well. He really got after it and was physical, made some plays, and he looked good. So I think we are happy with where he is at."

Focused on improvingVeteran right tackle Mark Tauscher said he is looking to bounce back on Sunday against Detroit after having some struggles on Monday night in Chicago.

Tauscher was flagged for three penalties, including false starts on consecutive plays late in the third quarter at Green Bay's 1-yard line, as well as a holding penalty on the Packers' opening drive of the second half.

His hold of defensive end Julius Peppers on third-and-9 wiped out a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to tight end Jermichael Finley. After the Packers failed to convert on third down on the next play, kicker Mason Crosby's 37-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Peppers.

"Anytime you have three penalties, it's going to be a losing performance," Tauscher said. "When you are playing, you can't make that many mistakes.

"I try not to have any bad plays and I don't want to have penalties. Obviously I didn't succeed in that last week. You need to tighten up. I practice hard. It's just a matter of going out and executing and playing better on the field, and that's something that I plan on doing."

Green Bay didn't get the kind of production it wanted on the ground either, with just 43 yards on 13 carries (3.3 avg.) from running backs John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson. The Packers average of 95.3 yards per game through Week 3 ranks No. 22 in the league.

"I think we are just not as precise as we need to be," Tauscher said. "We're not doing the things we need to do up front to give our running backs the seams in order to be more efficient.

"It's little things. If you are off your landmark, even if it is six inches, it takes away six inches of running lane. It sounds easy, but it's a lot tougher to execute than just to say it."

Collins sorrySafety Nick Collins apologized for his role in an altercation with a fan as he walked into the tunnel following the Packers' 20-17 loss at Soldier Field on Monday night.
"I apologize to the organization, to the fans, Nick Collins fans," Collins said. "It was a situation I could have walked away from, but heat of the moment, things happen. Both sides were out of line.

"It was just a situation I shouldn't have been a part of. I should have just kept walking into the locker room."

Collins said he had been in touch with the league office regarding the incident.

"It is out of my hands right now," Collins said. "I am doing whatever they ask me to do right now. I am cooperating, and that's the best I can do."

Injury/participation updateThe Packers conducted a "jog-through-type" practice on Wednesday afternoon, and linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) was the only player who didn't participate.

Collins (knee), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safety Charlie Peprah (quad) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) were all limited participants. McCarthy said Clifton was ahead of where he was at this time last week.

Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (hand), linebacker Brad Jones (knee), safety Derrick Martin (ankle) and defensive end Mike Neal (side/rib) were full participants.

Neal has been inactive for the first three games due to the injury, and McCarthy said he wants to see the rookie make it through a full practice. Since the team didn't go full speed in Wednesday's practice, McCarthy said how Neal felt on Friday after Thursday's practice would be more of an indication of where he is at with the injury.

For Detroit, running back Jahvid Best (toe), running back Aaron Brown (finger), wide receiver Nate Burleson (ankle), safety Louis Delmas (groin/biceps/calf), defensive tackle Sammie Hill (ankle), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (right shoulder) did not participate in Wednesday's practice.

Defensive end Cliff Avril (knee/finger), safety C.C. Brown (forearm), linebacker Zack Follett (concussion), cornerback Chris Houston (knee), linebacker Landon Johnson (neck) and guard Stephen Peterman (foot) were limited participants.

Additional coverage – Sept. 29

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