No mumbo-jumbo for Green Bay Packers’ Zombo
Nov 26, 2010 ~ by Gary D’Amato, Journal Sentinel
~Green Bay — You check out Frank Zombo’s bio and look up to see him starting at right outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers and you wonder:
How in the world did the dots ever get connected?
One year ago, he was a 270-pound defensive end at Central Michigan. The NFL draft came and went without Zombo’s name being called and he signed as a rookie free agent with the Packers.
Told he’d be converted to linebacker, he lost 20 pounds and reported to Green Bay to try to make the team at a position he’d never played in high school or college. Then he suffered a badly sprained ankle in August.
How was this guy going to make the roster?
“Obviously, I knew I had my work cut out for me,” Zombo said. “Coming into it, all I knew was that I didn’t want to have any regrets if I didn’t make it. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I was going to give it everything I had no matter what.”
A funny thing happened on the way to the practice squad.
Injuries swept through the Packers’ linebackers like a brush fire in the Hollywood hills, and suddenly Zombo was the last man standing. There was nobody else to play right outside linebacker. He was it.
Zombo made his first start in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, replacing the injured Brad Jones. After Jones (shoulder) went on injured reserve Oct. 27, the position was Zombo’s for good.
Linebackers coach Kevin Greene worked to get Zombo up to speed, but for the most part it’s been baptism by fire. The 23-year-old Zombo has had to learn a new position on the fly against the likes of Matt Forte, Donovan McNabb, Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre.
How is the job not too big for him?
“It’s not too big for him because he wants it,” Greene said. “I mean, he has a hunger for it. It’s a passion for him. He’s a walk-on in the NFL. That’s what he is. But he’s got the right mind-set. He’s got the right attitude. He’s willing to learn and to listen and try to implement the things that we’re teaching. When he does, he sees it works for him.”
The 6-foot-3 Zombo is listed at 254 pounds but said he weighed 248. He played four years with his hand down at Central Michigan and had 25½ sacks, but he’s a versatile athlete who was an all-state wide receiver at Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, Mich.
In his final home game at Central Michigan, he intercepted a pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown against Northern Illinois.
“A pick-six in my last game,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”
Zombo ranks sixth on the Packers with 45 tackles, including eight against the Minnesota Vikings last week, and has forced a fumble.
“He is doing really, really well,” Greene said. “He set a real hard edge against a Pro Bowl player in (Bryant) McKinnie. He made a couple of really nice tackles. He’s playing well. He’s a good kid. He’s very self-conscious about how he plays. He wants to learn and get better and it shows.”
Zombo’s pass-rushing skills help him at linebacker. He’s strong enough to walk tackles back into the quarterback and has two sacks.
“Everybody measures the sacks and that type of thing, but you need people that know how to rush, where they just aren’t flying up the field,” said defensive coordinator Dom Capers. “If you put on the tape you’ll see a couple times (Sunday) that he had the tackle right back into Brett’s lap.”
Of course, Zombo has made his share of mistakes, too. On Sunday, he missed an open-field tackle on Vikings running back Toby Gerhart and a short pass in the flat ruptured into a 19-yard gain.
“There are some fundamentals and technique things that we can improve on,” Greene said. “He’ll learn that. This is a guy who had his hand in the dirt for most of his college career and now he’s a two-point drop linebacker.”
Fortunately, Zombo is a fast learner. Later in the Vikings game, Favre threw a pass in the left flat to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and Zombo roared up and made the open-field tackle for no gain.
“Zombo is a conscientious guy and he wants to do everything right,” Capers said. “It really bothers him if he makes a mistake. Because of that attitude, he normally doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He’s not afraid to ask questions. He’s made an awful lot of improvement.”
Like Zombo, Packers inside linebacker Desmond Bishop got his chance to play because of injuries. Now a starter alongside Zombo, Bishop said the two had a lot in common, starting with their passion for the game.
“I think the essence of football is really simple,” Bishop said. “If you love to play and you’re willing to put in the work, it can be simple. At the end of the day, football is football. See the ball, hit the ball, tackle the ball. Rush the quarterback. Read the quarterback.
“Whether you’re doing it from a three-point stance or two-point stance or whatever, football is football.”
Zombo has a deep appreciation for the Packers organization and its storied tradition. He’s fallen in love with Green Bay and said he’s converted most of Sterling Heights – a suburb of Detroit – into Packers fans.
“I’m so glad I’m here,” he said. “I love the Green Bay Packers. I love Green Bay and the area. I like it that there’s no traffic. I can go 15 minutes north of here and go hunting.
“I know I can play this game for a long time and hopefully it’s in Green Bay because I love it here so much. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
It’s worked out well for the Packers, too.
Full story HERE