Frank Zombo proved how tough he was as a rookie last year, gutting it out through training camp and the preseason on a badly swollen ankle.
That was child’s play compared to this.
It turns out Zombo played 30 snaps in last Friday’s preseason game against Arizona with what was later diagnosed as a broken shoulder blade. Zombo said he could barely raise his left arm, but he thought it was just a bad bruise that would need postgame treatment.
“My adrenaline was going, I guess,” Zombo said on Monday. “It’s just not in me to pull out.”
There was no reason to, performance-wise, anyway. Zombo had collided with fullback John Kuhn during pre-game warm-ups, so the bone was fractured before the game began, but his game didn’t suffer.
“I graded out 100 percent, playing 30 plays with one arm,” Zombo said. “It really hurt.”
Aware of the double meaning, what Zombo meant by “hurt” was the damage done to his bid to start at outside linebacker, not the pain he was in. Battling all training camp with Erik Walden and Brad Jones for a starting spot, Zombo now must take a step back for as long as it takes the shoulder blade, medically called the scapula, to heal.
“It’s nothing surgical,” Zombo said. “Just a crack. When that heals up, I’ll be ready to go.”
When that will be no one is predicting, though knowing Zombo’s history, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said it will be “sooner than later.”
In the meantime, Walden steps to the forefront for the starting outside linebacker job opposite Clay Matthews. Walden worked with the first unit all last week and then started against Arizona, along with Zombo, because Matthews was out with hamstring tightness. Jones sat out Monday’s practice with a sprained knee, though he could return sometime this week.
Rookies Vic So’oto, Jamari Lattimore and Ricky Elmore will get more extensive looks this week, as well. Lattimore worked on the first-team kickoff coverage unit on Monday in Jones’ place, and So’oto and Lattimore were paired as outside linebackers with the No. 2 defense.
Zombo doesn’t believe the injury is serious enough to cost him the season, though he acknowledged that he’s now “behind the 8-ball” as far as earning playing time before the season gets too far along. He’s proven he can be productive in these types of circumstances, though.
He had two sacks in the first three regular-season games last year after dealing with that bad ankle all through the preseason, and he got the Packers’ only sack in the Super Bowl after missing the previous six games with a knee injury.
“I want to get out there as soon as I can,” he said. “I don’t like being in the training room.”
That’s an attitude his teammates admire.
“He has the old-school mentality,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “That’s how he helped us win last year.”
T.J. Lang hopes to play a big role in helping the Packers win this year, having been named the winner, to this point, in the competition with Derek Sherrod at left guard.
Lang, who will start the third preseason game Friday in Indianapolis when the starters will get their most extensive action, won the job with better play in the preseason games, but also by staying mentally tough.
Sherrod was inserted as the starting left guard, a new position for him, for the first practice of training camp despite no prior knowledge of the offense due to the lockout. Lang took it in stride, and persevered.
“It only made me work that much harder knowing that I didn’t have anything handed to me,” Lang said of his thoughts on the first day of camp. “I think I gave the coaches confidence to let me go out there and play and show them that I can do the job.”
Lang’s mentality coming into camp this year was to become a starter, unlike last year when he said he was just trying to make the team after missing the entire offseason due to wrist surgery.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2009 who started games at both tackle spots as a rookie, Lang said he finally feels like he knows what his best position is. That’s been an internal discussion amongst the coaches and personnel staff since Lang’s arrival, with some saying guard and others saying tackle.
“I really haven’t had the chance my first two years to settle down in one spot,” Lang said. “With the opportunity to come in this year and in the first few weeks take the majority of the reps at left guard, I think I’m finally starting to settle in pretty nice.”
That said, shifting around and learning various spots along the line probably helped prepare him to win this starting job in his third season.
“Playing multiple positions has given him a good understanding of what everybody is doing,” center Scott Wells said. “He’s had to play both sides of the ball, as far as right, left, tackle and guard. He has a good understanding of the offense, and I think his confidence has picked up because of that.”
McCarthy said the decision was made at left guard with an eye toward having the starting five on the offensive line working together from now until the regular-season opener on Sept. 8.
Lang emphasized that he needs to view what he has accomplished thus far in camp as a start, not the finish.
“I’ve been here long enough to realize the depth chart can still change any day,” he said. “Having that spot, it’s mine to lose, and I don’t plan on giving it up for a while.”