Zombo, who sprained his right knee at Detroit in Week 14, was a limited participant in practice on Friday, the team’s first on-field work of the week.
“I feel like I never left,” Zombo said. “I thought I was maybe going to be a little out of shape or feel rusty, but I felt good. I’m real happy.
“I’m real optimistic. I thought maybe I could have gone even last week. Just in case of injuries, they held me out, but I feel good for this week.”
Zombo is wearing a brace on the knee for precautionary measures, and he said he didn’t hold anything back in practice on Friday.
“I knew I had to cut it loose,” Zombo said. “I’m not saving up for anything; it’s the Super Bowl. I need to find out if I can give it everything I have. I wasn’t trying to think about it at all. I was just trying to go out there and play football. I didn’t have any pain whatsoever.”
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Central Michigan in the spring, Zombo’s strong showing in the preseason earned him a spot on the final roster. With veteran Brady Poppinga and second-year man Brad Jones both seeing their seasons end due to injury, Zombo moved into the starting outside-linebacker spot opposite Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, where he opened eight games before going down with an injury of his own against the Lions. Zombo finished the season with 67 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Zombo sat out the Week 15 contest at New England, but returned to practice on a limited basis the Friday before the N.Y. Giants game. Heading into a must-win game, Zombo wanted to get back on the field, but it ended up being a mistake.
“I tried to get back on the field and I ended up setting myself back farther and farther,” Zombo said. “If I would have just kind of relaxed for three weeks, I would have been back in three weeks. But I tried to get back as soon as I could and it was just kind of counterproductive.”
Over the past month, third-year linebacker Erik Walden took advantage of the opportunity created by Zombo’s absence, including a career-high three-sack performance in the regular-season finale vs. Chicago that earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Walden has started all three postseason contests as well, posting 15 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
At a position that has been a bit of a revolving door all season long because of injuries, Walden is now recovering from one himself. Early in the second half of Sunday’s NFC Championship win at Chicago, Walden said his ankle got caught in the grass at Soldier Field and rolled over awkwardly. He stayed in for one series after getting hurt before first-year linebacker Robert Francois took over for the remainder of the game.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the plan is to let Walden rest and treat the injury until the Packers practice for the first time in Dallas next Wednesday. With an extra week between games, Walden is confident he will be on the field for Super Bowl XLV.
“None at all,” Walden said when asked if he had any doubts about playing. “The Lord works in mysterious ways. Everything happens for a reason, so I’m looking at it like that. I’m doing my treatment daily, several hours a day, and just getting myself prepared to play.
“I think it would have been a little tough on me if we played this Sunday. Time is definitely helpful. I’m just taking it a day at a time.”
Zombo conceded that Walden has earned the starting spot with his play over the past month, and hopes to make a contribution in the biggest game of the season.
“Walden is playing great football; there is no doubt about that,” Zombo said. “I am just here trying to provide depth if I have to, just help the team win. I don’t know how that is going to all work out, but wherever I need to fit in, that’s what I want to do.”
Back at it
After giving the players some time off to rest their bodies and take care of ticket and travel plans for their families, the Packers were back on the practice field for the first time this week on Friday.
“It was great to be on the field today,” McCarthy said. “We actually had a very good practice. We finished 13 minutes early, so that tells you something about the tempo. We didn’t have any repeated plays in the team period, so that’s very good for a Wednesday-type practice.”
Green Bay will practice on Saturday and Sunday before departing for Dallas on Monday afternoon. With the game more than a week away, McCarthy said he wasn’t concerned about the players’ energy level being too high at this point.
“The energy before the game, the build-up to it, you have to be conscious of it,” McCarthy said. “I definitely feel the four days off from being on the field really helped our players. Just very positive in the communication with them to obviously take care of their personal responsibilities but get a chance for their bodies to recover.
“I really like the way the schedule is laid out, practice in shells today, because anytime you have an extended period off, coming off a bye week, your risks for muscle strains is a little higher. So it was important to be smart with today’s practice and we’ll build up to a normal practice tomorrow. But I don’t see too much energy being an issue.”
Having grown up in Pittsburgh, it’s no surprise that McCarthy’s earliest Super Bowl memory involves the Steelers.
McCarthy listed Super Bowl IX between Pittsburgh and Minnesota as the first world championship game he recalled from his youth. The Steelers won, 16-6, in New Orleans on Jan. 12, 1975, when McCarthy was 11, the first of four Super Bowl victories for Pittsburgh over a six-year period.
“It was all about watching the Steeler games,” McCarthy said. “That’s a part of the fiber of growing up in Pittsburgh. It’s the same thing in Wisconsin. It’s very, very similar. It’s all about your home team. I just remember the reaction of the town when they won the first Super Bowl. It was incredible.
“And then having the experience to go through Austin-Straubel Airport after the NFC Championship Game (last Sunday), to experience that personally, it was very special. A lot of positive memories from the ‘70s.”
McCarthy’s parents, Joe and Ellen, who still live in the Greenfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, have been the recipients of media requests themselves this week regarding their son.
“I got a kick out of my father,” McCarthy said. “‘Why do I have to answer the same damn questions over and over?’ I said trust me, I know exactly how you feel. But they’re enjoying it.”
When he takes the field with his team next Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, McCarthy will be at his first-ever Super Bowl game in person.
“I had a chance to go to the Super Bowl in ’07 just for a couple of events,” McCarthy said. “I went because I had to go. But my (19-year-old) daughter Alex, it was something she always wanted to go to. And I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go when we play in it.’ It’s finally here.”
Walden and Zombo are both listed as questionable for next Sunday’s game. The rest of the players on Green Bay’s injury report -- linebacker Desmond Bishop (ankle), tackle Chad Clifton (neck), linebacker A.J. Hawk (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (knee) and center/guard Jason Spitz (calf) -- are probable.
For Pittsburgh, safety Will Allen (knee), center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) and defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) are questionable. Allen and Pouncey did not practice all week while Smith was limited each of the past three days.
Cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen), safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles), wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) and tackle Jonathan Scott (ribs) are probable. McFadden, Polamalu and Sanders all participated fully on Friday after not practicing the past two days. Scott did not practice all week.
Friday is the last injury report until next Wednesday in Dallas, when the players return to practice. The statuses declared for players this week are subject to change.
Additional coverage - Jan. 28