Undrafted Zombo Finds Perfect Match

With the help of Kevin Greene, Frank Zombo has gone from long shot to make the roster to working with the No. 1 nickel defense. We talked to the wide-eyed Zombo and the fiery Greene for this feature that puts a spin on a big story from Monday night.

The first clue that undrafted rookie Frank Zombo had a chance to make the roster should have been when he got a nickname from outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.

"Zombonious Maronious!" Greene said with a laugh. "I like him. He's a kid who has a great work ethic, great attitude, outlook, great heart. He wants to learn. He listens to everything I have to say. Everything that I'm telling him, he's implementing. He's buying in, and that's what we need from our young guys. He's a good one. I like him."

Due in part to injuries but also due to his surprising play since returning from an ankle injury that he absolutely, positively wouldn't let sideline him for long, Zombo worked with the No. 1 nickel defense on Monday night. With Clay Matthews and Brad Jones out with injuries and with Brandon Chillar moved back to the inside, it was Zombo and veteran Brady Poppinga at outside linebacker.

"I don't know what's going to happen on gameday. I don't know," Zombo said after practice. "But Coach Greene said to me, ‘A year ago, what would you think if you were going to be starting for the Green Bay Packers in the third preseason game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts?' I would have told you, ‘No way.' I'm not saying that's going to happen; I don't know. But just the opportunity, it's pretty overwhelming."

Overwhelming, indeed.

Zombo recorded 25.5 sacks while starting 39 games at Central Michigan — including a career-high three in his collegiate swan song, the GMAC Bowl victory over Troy. Zombo wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine but he impressed scouts at CMU's pro day — mainly because his 40-yard time of 4.71 seconds had some teams thinking the former high school wide receiver could make the transition to tight end. Zombo wasn't drafted, and the Packers added him and two others to their mix at outside linebacker. Neither Tim Knicky nor John Russell made it to training camp, and Zombo wondered at times when he'd be the next one asked to turn in his playbook.

"You come in, you've got three guys, same as me," Zombo said. "But as they go off — they're your buddies, you hang out with them every day — but as they get cut or released, it's your buddy, (and you think), ‘Hey, that could've happened to me.' Every time I get a phone call from a 920 number, I'm like, ‘Is it my time? Am I going to get cut?' But I guess it's good when they start dropping off and you're still around. As long as you're here, the most reps you can get and the most you can put on film, I guess that's the best."

Zombo had the team's only quarterback pressure in the Cleveland game, which turned into an interception. At practice a couple days later, he ended a two-minute drill with a pair of sacks. "Just a couple lucky moves, I guess," he said. Against Seattle, Zombo apparently got lucky again by recording the team's only sack.

Zombo gives most of the credit to Greene, who remains the NFL's all-time leader in sacks among linebackers.

"Coach Greene, I guess we're just connecting," Zombo said. We're on the same level. I understand his coaching, I can do what he says. I guess he portrays his coaching really well and I can just relate to it. Like I said before, I'm just giving effort, taking his coaching and putting it on the field and I think that's all I can do right now."

Greene took an instant liking to the inquisitive Zombo. A defensive end in college who stood in a two-point stance and dropped into coverage just once during his career — which he intercepted for a pick-six — Zombo bombarded Greene with questions about the nuances of the position. On the field, he's taken Greene's advice to heart. He makes mistakes, Greene said, but never the same mistake twice. He's play with the power that Greene demands against the run, and the 20 pounds he dropped from his college days have paid dividends in coverage.

"I think he's making it look easy," Greene said of the transition. "In the 3-4, you really want a couple dogs on the corner, dogs that'll get out and hunt. He's doing that. He's tracking."

To say Zombo is taking all of this in stride would be wrong. Just the opposite, actually. Even he seems surprised by how perfectly everything is going. He landed with a team that needed an outside linebacker. He landed with a coach with which he formed a bond. And he landed in a defense that, while foreign to him, suits his skills.

"I was talking to Brady Poppinga on the way back, like I just love this position," Zombo said. "I'm not nervous going into games as much. I just feel like I'm in a powerful position. This position that they created with this 3-4 defense is just great for outside linebackers, and I love it. Every second I go on that field, I just love playing the position."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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