Linebacker Frank Zombo during Green Bay Packers Training Camp at Ray Nitschke Field August 17, 2010. / Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette
The Green Bay Packers first turned to Brandon Chillar for the outside linebacker they didnít draft or sign in free agency last year.
They moved him from inside linebacker in the first week of training camp because starter Brad Jonesí back injury exposed just how thin they were on the outside after adding only three undrafted rookies.
Now just one of those three rookies, Frank Zombo, remains on the roster, and though he didnít distinguish himself early in camp, heís played well enough recently to force the Packers to take a harder look at him at outside linebacker and to have a shot at landing on their 53-man roster.
In two preseason games, Zombo has three quarterbacks hits, one sack and six tackles. The sack came Saturday at Seattle in the third quarter when he beat backup tackle Joe Toledo one-on-one as part of a four-man rush and dropped quarterback Charlie Whitehurst for a 3-yard loss.
Zomboís chances of making the roster depend in part on whether the Packers keep eight or nine linebackers, though even if they keep only eight heís putting up a good argument to stick ahead of outside linebackers Robert Francois and Cyril Obiozor for that final spot. However, he could end up on the practice squad if the Packers trade for an outside linebacker or claim one on waivers after final cuts.
Because Jonesí shoulder injury kept him out of Monday nightís practice, the Packers gave Zombo snaps with the first-team defense on the outside while Chillar worked as an inside linebacker.
ďHeís a high-effort player,Ē coach Mike McCarthy said of Zombo after Monday nightís practice. ďTough kid, played through injuries. Heís had a nice camp up until now. Heís earned every opportunity.Ē
Zombo is one of three undrafted rookies who has a decent shot at a final roster spot, along with cornerback Sam Shields and halfback Quinn Porter.
NFL teams have to make their first roster cut to 75 players by 3 p.m. on Aug. 31 and the final cut to 53 players by 5 p.m. on Sept. 4.
Following is a position-by-position breakdown of the Packersí roster with the final cut two weeks away. The likely number of players theyíll keep at each position is in parenthesis:
Linebackers (8 or 9)
Lock: ILB Nick Barnett, OLB Clay Matthews, OLB Brad Jones, ILB A.J. Hawk, OLB-ILB Brandon Chillar, ILB Desmond Bishop, OLB Brady Poppinga.
On the fence: OLB Frank Zombo, OLB Robert Francois, ILB Alex Joseph.
Long-shot: ILB Maurice Simpkins, OLB Cyril Obiozor.
Comment: Jones at this point appears likely to retain his starting job ahead of Chillar, though a shoulder injury could keep him sidelined for at least another week. If Jones holds the jobs, thereís a good chance Chillar would move back inside in the nickel defense, where heís the Packersí best cover linebacker.
The Packers probably could get something for Bishop in a trade, but it also would leave them more vulnerable to injury issues at a critical position in their 3-4 scheme, so the offer might have to be sweeter than is realistic to expect to get GM Ted Thompson to bite.
Joseph is a decent athlete whoís chances of sticking are falling fast because of a quadriceps injury thatís sidelined him since Aug. 7.
Francois moved inside last week against Seattle because of injuries but looked out of place, and hasnít been as effective a rusher in practice as Zombo on the outside.
Defensive line (6 or 7)
Lock: NT B.J. Raji, DE-NT Ryan Pickett, DE Cullen Jenkins, DE Mike Neal.
On the fence: DE Justin Harrell, DE Jarius Wynn, DE C.J. Wilson, DE Ronald Talley.
Long-shot: NT Anthony Toribio.
Comment: If Harrell can stay healthy the final two weeks of camp, heíll make it. But thatís far from a given because of his long-term back issues, especially after he missed a day of training camp last week when his back acted up. The former first-round pick isnít a stud but has been a good backup end in camp.
If Harrell makes it and the Packers only keep six here, Wynn has the inside track. Heís played better since coach Mike McCarthyís mildly criticized him early in camp. Talley spent last season on the practice squad, but his chances this year have taken a hit because heís been in and out of practice while coming back from offseason knee surgery.
Wilson, a seventh-round draft pick, looked intriguing in the offseason because of his athleticism as a pass rusher, but that hasnít translated to pads. If the Packers keep seven, he has a decent chance of sticking ahead of Talley, but if they keep six he might be headed for the practice squad.
Secondary (10 or 11)
Lock: CB Charles Woodson, CB Tramon Williams, S Nick Collins, S Morgan Burnett, CB Brandon Underwood, CB Pat Lee.
Good bet: CB Sam Shields, S-CB Will Blackmon, CB Al Harris.
On the fence: S Atari Bigby, S Derrick Martin, S Charlie Peprah, CB-S Jarrett Bush.
Long-shot: S Anthony Levine, CB D.J. Clark.
Comment: Harris appears ready to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, which would mean heíd be game-ready early in the season, maybe even for the opener, as either a starter or the third cornerback for the nickel. But if he doesnít come off PUP within the next week, he could end up staying there for the first six games of the regular season.
Shields has been a disaster catching punts, but itís hard to see him getting cut because somebody would pick him up. Though heís raw after moving from receiver to cornerback only for his final season in college, heís shown big-time potential at that position and can help immediately as a gunner covering punts, which he showed against Seattle last week.
Lee played better than Underwood last week against Seattle and still could push past him for the No. 3 cornerback while Harris is out. Though Seattle picked on Underwood with some success Saturday night, both he and Lee have been OK overall in camp.
Itís looking more likely Bigby will stay on PUP for the start of the season, and thus be ineligible to play until after six games, after undergoing ankle surgery the first week of camp.
With how weak the Packers are behind Blackmon in the return game, he should make the roster on that alone, though his ability to play cornerback and safety in a pinch is a plus.
Bush has looked better in the two preseason games at cornerback than all last year, but heís not as good as Underwood and Lee. If he makes the roster it will be for special teams, where heís remained a core player in camp.
Martin has an edge on Peprah in special teams, though Martinís personal foul for punching a Seattle player on a punt return last week doesnít help his cause.
Lock: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn.
Long-shot: Graham Harrell.
Comment: Itís a given the Packers will save the roster spot again this year and keep only two quarterbacks on their final 53. Harrell has looked better as camp has gone on and has a decent shot at sticking as the de facto No. 3 on the practice squad, though maybe somebody the Packers liked coming out of college will be available after final cuts.
Offensive line (9 or 10)
Lock: T Chad Clifton, G Daryn Colledge, C Scott Wells, G Josh Sitton, T Mark Tauscher, T-G Bryan Bulaga, T-G T.J. Lang, G-C Jason Spitz.
On the fence: T Breno Giacomini, C-G Evan Dietrich-Smith, G-T Allen Barbre, T-G Marshall Newhouse.
Long-shot: T Chris Campbell, G-C Nick McDonald.
Comment: Colledge and Spitz remain the most likely of several players to be dealt, though Thompson might be reluctant to take a dent out of his depth here.
Colledge has had a solid camp with his job on the line but could be the most likely for a deal. For one, he could fetch some value with 60 NFL starts on his resume. Second, Bulaga has played at least as well if not better at left guard. Plus, both Lang and Spitz could be expected to hold up well there if injuries hit during the season.
Giacomini is playing himself off the roster because of his shortcomings in pass protection in the two preseason games. Dietrich-Smith is undersized but finds a way to stay between his man and the quarterback in pass protection and looks like a legit NFL backup. Newhouse, a fifth-round pick, started poorly but has played better at tackle as camp has gone on, and is worth a practice-squad spot if nothing else.
Barbre is a good athlete but is missing something in pass protection, which makes the former fourth-round pick look expendable barring injuries.
Receivers (4 or 5)
Lock: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson.
Good bet: Brett Swain.
Long-shot: Patrick Williams, Chastin West, Jason Chery, Charles Dillon, Shawn Gore.
Comment: The Packers are about as good as anyone in the NFL going four deep at this position.
Swain probably isnít full speed after having his knee rebuilt late last year but is a core player on special teams and caught three passes for a 17-yard average against Seattle.
Williams, Chery, Dillon and West are possibilities for a spot on the practice squad, though none looks like a keeper at this point in their careers.
Tight ends (3 or 4)
Lock: Jermichael Finley.
Good bet: Spencer Havner, Andrew Quarless.
On the fence: Donald Lee, Tom Crabtree.
Comment: All five of these guys are NFL players, and if the Packers want to keep them all they can do it by looking at Havner as a two-position player and counting him as much at linebacker as at tight end. Heís one of the teamís best special teams players, and showed ability as a red-zone receiver last year.
Quarless is raw and a shaky blocker but flashes enough receiving talent that he might not make it through the waiver wire to the practice squad if cut.
Lee hasnít distinguished himself in camp, but if the Packers cut him theyíd be taking a big risk getting caught thin in experience if Finley got hurt.
Crabtree has shown great toughness as a blocker and playing through a wrist injury, though his running and receiving skills might be suspect.
Running backs (5 or 6)
Lock: RB Ryan Grant, RB Brandon Jackson.
On the fence: RB Quinn Porter, RB James Starks, FB Korey Hall, FB John Kuhn, FB Quinn Johnson, RB Kregg Lumpkin.
Comment: Hard to see Thompson keeping three fullbacks on the final 53 again, though never say never. Hall is the best special-teams player of the three and thus would be the toughest to cut. Kuhn also has been a core special-teams player in camp and showed a little added value as an emergency halfback Saturday at Seattle. Johnson has blocked well in both preseason games but doesnít catch well and hasnít worked his way onto any first-team special teams.
Starks, a sixth-round draft pick, has missed camp because of a hamstring injury, and if he doesnít return this week his chances of making the roster are minimal. He then would end up on injured reserve or the practice squad. Porter is small (205 pounds) but has some burst and running skill, and rates an edge on Lumpkin, whose hamstring injury is killing his chances.
Lock: K Mason Crosby, LS Brett Goode.
On the fence: P Chris Bryan, P Tim Masthay.
Comment: Looks like the punting battle will go to the wire. Bryanís edge is heís been a pro athlete and played in front of big crowds in Australian Rules Football. Masthay has been the better place-kick holder. Not much separating their production.