Take Monday afternoon’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field. With the No. 2 offense going against the No. 2 defense in the 2-minute drill, quarterback Matt Flynn drove the ball from his own 40 into a goal-to-go situation with under a minute left.
But Flynn and the offense were thwarted when rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo got into the backfield for non-contact “sacks” on both third and fourth downs, ending the drill with a win for the defense.
“Coach (Kevin) Greene was talking about having the heart and passion to get to the thrower, and just a couple of lucky moves I guess and I wound up next to the quarterback,” Zombo said.
That finish to practice was a strong follow-up to Saturday’s preseason opener for Zombo, who was credited with the team’s only official quarterback hit of the game when he got a piece of Cleveland’s Colt McCoy late in the third quarter. On the play, McCoy’s underthrown pass was intercepted by safety Derrick Martin.
Zombo still has a tough road to making the final roster as a non-drafted free agent out of Central Michigan. But injuries to starter Clay Matthews (hamstring) and backup Cyril Obiozor (calf) have forced some shuffling at outside linebacker and helped elevate Zombo to the No. 2 defense, and he’s doing his best to take advantage.
“I’m a rookie trying to absorb everything,” particularly any advice he gets from Greene, he said. “I’m just doing what he’s taught me to do. I feel like I can learn well. I can take coaching.”
A defensive end in college who dropped nearly 20 pounds during the offseason to make the transition to outside linebacker, Zombo felt he started with a strong first week in training camp. But then on Thursday, Aug. 5, two days before the Family Night scrimmage, he injured an ankle and was sidelined.
By the following Thursday, however, Zombo was back on the field, even though he wasn’t scheduled to return until after the preseason opener. He says the ankle is still a little swollen but he has it heavily taped and it doesn’t bother him while he’s playing.
“It’s just not in me,” Zombo said of missing time. “I never missed a game in my career. Sitting out the scrimmage, it haunted me. I wasn’t supposed to play last week, but I just knew I couldn’t (sit out again), so I just knew I had to fight through it. And in this position I’m in, a free agent fighting for a spot, there’s no room to sit out.”
There’s usually room for effective pass rushers, though, and it’s worth noting defensive end Justin Harrell has shown a little progress in that area as well.
Last Saturday night, with Cleveland facing a third-and-7 midway through the second quarter, Harrell got a strong inside push as McCoy threw incomplete, forcing a punt. Then on the Browns’ first drive of the second half, on second-and-15, Harrell nearly got to McCoy, flushing him out before McCoy threw the ball away. Two plays later, the Browns punted again.
“I was trying to reach and grab and do everything I could to grab him,” Harrell said. “But he was kind of elusive, and he got away from me. I just have to do a little bit more to get there.”
That’s the kind of pressure the Packers are counting on so they don’t have to rely on the blitz to get to the quarterback. Green Bay blitzed very little against Cleveland, and there wasn’t much pressure on the Browns’ first two scoring drives, but things improved from there.
The Packers were credited with just one sack in the game, and it went to outside linebacker Brady Poppinga, who chased quarterback Seneca Wallace out of bounds for a 3-yard loss early in the second quarter. It was probably more of a “coverage sack,” with credit going to the secondary.
But anyone who can make an impact in the pass rush outside of the usual suspects – Matthews, linebackers Brad Jones and Nick Barnett, and defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who collectively accounted for 23 ½ of the team’s 38 sacks last year (62 percent, including playoffs) – would be welcome, whether it’s push on the inside from guys like Harrell or pressure off the edge from others like Zombo.
“When you’re at this level, you have to have at least some confidence,” Zombo said. “It would definitely boost it up if I can do it in Seattle.”
Aug. 16 - Additional coverage