Camp Preview: Battle at OLB

Clay Matthews is one of the best in the business, but who will be the other starter? Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Brad Jones are the front-runners in a deep but mostly unproven position group.

It will be a battle royale to start opposite the Green Bay Packers' superb left outside linebacker, Clay Matthews.

The candidates all have something of a resume, which is why general manager Ted Thompson didn't make the position an emphasis during the draft. That there isn't a "sure" starter among them actually pleases defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

"I think we know a lot more than we did at this time last year," Capers said of the young outside linebackers on Wednesday. "We've got Brad Jones, who started seven games two years ago who we lost with injuries. We've got two guys who started a significant amount of time in (Frank) Zombo and Erik Walden. I think we'll have good competition. That's encouraging to me because when you're coming off a year like last year, I think it's important, the more competition you have out there on the field, you know guys are going to be fighting every day to go out and prove that they're the guy. We're going to have that at that position."

Jones was a tough customer against the run and had four sacks in Aaron Kampman's absence in 2009. However, shoulder and knee injuries limited his impact during six games (five starts) in 2010. He didn't have a sack but his pressure on Brett Favre led to an interception by A.J. Hawk.

Zombo, an undrafted rookie, defied all expectations by playing in 600 snaps (including the playoffs). A collegiate defensive end who ranks second in Central Michigan history with 25.5 sacks, Zombo made an immediate impression during training camp. He wound up starting eight games, recording four sacks and forcing two fumbles. He missed six games with a knee sprain but returned in time for the Super Bowl to record the Packers' only sack.

In Zombo's absence, midseason addition Walden flashed some playmaking potential. An undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State in 2008, Walden made the first two starts of his career in 2010. He was instrumental in getting the Packers into the playoffs with three sacks in a must-have Week 17 game against Chicago.

Thompson added three rookies to the mix, with sixth-round pick Ricky Elmore joining undrafted rookies Vic So'Oto of BYU and Jamari Lattimore of Middle Tennessee State. Elmore was a tremendous pass rusher at Arizona while Lattimore tied Walden's school record with 11.5 sacks as a senior.

"We'll have to see," Capers said when asked if Elmore could contribute immediately. "Who would have thought Zombo was going to start and play? Who would have thought Erik Walden was going to come in and be the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in the Chicago game when we needed him? I think Elmore has a good motor. He had some production in the Pac-10, so there's a reason why. Hopefully, he can carry that over here. I think he'll fly around, throw his body around. We'll just have to see how he fits in."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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