Zombo Headlines Undrafted FAs

Surprisingly, the number of undrafted free agents providing an instant impact might outnumber the draft picks. We talked to Frank Zombo on Sunday. He doesn't want to jinx it, but he'll join Sam Shields and others as key contributors this season.

Who says Ted Thompson doesn't play in free agency?

OK, so the free agency in question is the low-stakes world of undrafted free agency. But while only Morgan Burnett will start and only Mike Neal will have a large role among this year's draft picks, Thompson might actually find more immediate impact from his pool of undrafted players.

Not that Frank Zombo is taking any of this for granted.

"I'm definitely still fighting," the outside linebacker from Central Michigan said on Sunday. "You never know what could happen. This is my first time going through this process and I'm going to fight till the end until I know for sure and get that call that says I'm on the 53-man roster. I really don't know what to expect."

Of the Packers' four sacks in the preseason, two belong to Zombo, including last week's sack and strip of Peyton Manning. He's also the team's leading tackler, paced by playing every defensive snap against the Colts. Once Clay Matthews and Brad Jones are healthy and join veteran Brady Poppinga, Zombo's role likely will be reduced to situational pass rusher and special teams.

"He just likes the way I run to the ball and basically I'm always around the pile," Zombo said of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene's reaction after they watched the film. "He put me down for 13 tackles. He said, ‘Way to be a hunter, way to get to the ball and whenever you're out there, just give good effort.'"

Frank Zombo
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His performance led to one of those "pinch me" moments.

"It's funny that you say that," Zombo said. "As soon as you said that, it reminded me of something else. I woke up next to my girlfriend the next morning and, ‘What day is it?' She said, ‘Friday.' I honestly did feel like you wake up from one of those really good dreams where you just won a million dollars or found a big block of gold. I really had to make sure it was real and it really just happened."

There are other young surprises looking to earn a roster spot:

Sam Shields
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Sam Shields: Shields, an undrafted cornerback from Miami, not only is a lock to make the final roster, but his play against Indianapolis — along with Brandon Underwood's shoulder injury and Al Harris' still-on-hold comeback — make Shields the defense's third corner.

Shields, who lined up with the first nickel against the Colts, has an interception in each of the last two games, tying him with Oakland's Stevie Brown for the NFL lead among rookies. His growing confidence was evident with a couple more breakups at practice on Sunday.

"He showed up and made a play or two in every game," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.

Tim Masthay/Chris Bryan: Masthay, the front-runner to win the punting job entering the preseason finale, was an undrafted rookie in 2009 who spent a few nights in his training camp bed with the Colts last summer. Masthay, who had a tryout with the Packers upon his release, was signed by Green Bay 11 days after last season ended. His 40.7-yard net average ranks seventh in the NFL among punters with at least one kick per game.

If Masthay stubs his toe on Thursday, Bryan is ready to pounce. Bryan, an undrafted rookie from Australia, has a 40.0-yard net average that ranks well ahead of the three punters who were drafted (New England's Zoltan Mesko, Tampa Bay's Brent Bowden and the Giants' Matt Dodge).

"We're going to pick the right one and the one that doesn't stick here, I'm pretty confident will be punting in the NFL somewhere else. I think that much of both men," coach Mike McCarthy said.

Tom Crabtree: Like Masthay, Crabtree is technically not an undrafted rookie. The big tight end went undrafted in 2009 and spent training camp with the Chiefs, as well as a few weeks on their practice squad. He joined the Packers' practice squad on Dec. 1. In most years, Crabtree would be a lock to make the final roster. He's been called the team's best blocking tight end and is a No. 1 on the punt, punt return and kickoff return teams. With tremendous depth at the position, however, Jermichael Finley is a lock but the other four are on the bubble.

"I think after a couple games already and still being in there with the 1s, I'm doing something right, something they like," Crabtree said. "So, I just have to keep doing that."

Quinn Porter: Injury has derailed the long-shot bid of the undrafted rookie running back from Division II Stillman. With a knee sprain that McCarthy labeled as significant, the early sensation of training camp might find himself either out of a job or on injured reserve.

Every year, it seems like the Packers keep one undrafted rookie on their 53-man roster, such as Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2009 or Kregg Lumpkin in 2008. That success rate is about on par with the rest of the league, with between 30 and 32 undrafted free agents making rosters across the league over the last five years, according to The Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli. Only a dozen started so much as one game last year. If Shields winds up the third corner, he figures to wind up starting a game or three against a pass-happy offense like Philadelphia (Week 1) or Chicago (Week 3).

"I pull him to the side here and there and drop little tidbits to him," All-Pro Charles Woodson said. "That will pick up as it gets closer to the time we get to Philly. He's a young, gifted athlete. Once he really learns his game, I think he's going to be a pretty good corner. Between now and then, he don't have much time but he'll be ready."

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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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