Packer Update

Packers are thin on the outside

Zombo's a nice story, but the Packers still lack quality depth at outside linebacker

Call me an old curmudgeon, but the sight of Frank Zombo starting against the Colts didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Sure it’s a nice story – an undrafted free agent making a serious run at a spot on the final roster while learning a new position – but I see it as more of an indictment on just how weak the depth is at outside linebacker. And since this position is unquestionably one of the most important in a 3-4 defense, consider me more concerned than excited. After over 20 practices and three preseason games, Zombo, Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar are defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ best options behind starters Clay Matthews and Brad Jones. You’d be hard-pressed to find a weaker collection of backups in the entire league.

Zombo, who had 25.5 sacks as a defensive end in college, is a tough guy who goes all-out on every play. But he’s also a marginal athlete whose lack of lower body strength and explosiveness will almost certainly be exposed the more he plays against quality opposition. The feeling here is that the former Central Michigan standout will never be more than a No. 4 or 5 outside linebacker at this level.

The fourth or fifth outside linebacker is also the role Poppinga should fill on a 3-4 defense. I know Capers, assistant Kevin Greene and some members of the media have fawned all over the former BYU star this summer, but I don’t buy it. He still looks like the same guy to me. Poppinga will hold his own vs. the run, but he’ll be easily stymied as a pass rusher by any above-average tackle and he’ll be abused in coverage by any team with a creative offensive coordinator and a competent quarterback.

As far as Chillar is concerned, I expressed my feelings about his ability – or should I say his inability – to play outside linebacker a few weeks ago. The fact that he’s back taking the majority of his snaps inside suggests Capers quickly came around to my way of thinking. In short, he now realizes that Chillar should be no better that the fourth or fifth option at this position.

Notice a trend? Green Bay has a bevy of No. 4 and 5 outside linebackers, but nary a No. 3. This is even more of a concern when you consider that Matthews has been battling a hamstring injury for the past few weeks and Jones has already missed significant time this summer with back and shoulder problems. And while both players should be ready for the opener, it’s safe to say that neither will be compared to Cal Ripken Jr. any time soon.

If all of this isn’t concerning enough, just remember, we still don’t know if Jones has what it takes to be a legitimate starter in the NFL. While he showed definite potential as a rookie last season, the jury is still out. But that’s a post for another day. For today, feel free to cheer like crazy for Zombo, but just remember, the higher he climbs on the depth chart, the higher the level of your trepidation should be.

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20 Comments to "Packers are thin on the outside"

  1. Monty says:

    Amen, tell Ted we need to trade for a better OLB AND starting CB. Pat Lee looked terrible in the Colts game, Underwood I think can make it with more seasoning, but Pat Lee is another Ted Thompson round 2 BUST.

    • Aaron Nagler says:

      “…another Ted Thompson round 2 BUST”

      Like Nick Collins? Or Greg Jennings?

      • Monty says:

        no more like Brian Bohem or Brandon Jackson

        • Monty says:

          or A J Hawk

          • Monty says:

            justin harrell
            daryn colleage
            allan barbre
            Brady Poppinga
            The tall safety we cut last year cant think of his name
            not signing Randy Moss
            Derrek Frost over Jon Ryan
            not drafting Ray Rice
            hiring Mike McCartney over Sean Payton

      • Monty says:

        The Italian Salami Bruno G. #68….that boy has to go

        • Monty says:

          Ted Thompson LIVE, I rest my case:

          (Would you say there are a handful of spots still open?)
          You got here late, but I have a cold so I’m not thinking well. I can’t get into real deep things today. I’m taking medicine.

  2. DaveK says:

    I agree. If Zomba and Poppinga are playing a significant # of plays this year then the defense is going to have issues getting after the QB. Let’s hope Matthews and Jones stay healthy and are production because the cupboard is bare after them.

    This really seems like it is setting up for a trade scenario. We need a quality #3 OLB and there are teams that need help on the 0-line or TE. Dallas’ back-up OLB’s (Butler, Williams, Octovien) are far better then Zomba or Poppinga (and maybe Jones) and they need depth and help on their o-line. They also lost their 2nd TE to injury. Give them Spitz and/or Lee for their #3 OLB. Might make sense for both teams.

  3. lars says:

    Zombo!

    Hey, if you think the OLB position is tenuous, take a look inside where the Packers have AJ Hawk as a STARTER, Bishop and Chillar as “reserves.” Actually since Hawk only plays “base” D, Chillar will see more playing time. So, in effect Hawk and (hopefully) Francois will be the reserves, with Bishop getting traded CB help.

    I’m a lot more concerned with CB depth, or lack thereof, than bashing Frank Zombo potential as an OLB. “Experts” said the same thing about Teddy Bruschi. ;-)

  4. Cocoman says:

    I look at the 49ers as a possible trading partner. They have a roster battle between Diyral Briggs and Travis LaBoy for the final OLB spot. Either one of these guys seem like a decent pass-rushing option to me.

  5. Archie says:

    We are thin at all defensive positions if you ask me. The thing about TT that goes largely unnoticed is that he drafts very well at the offensive skill positions (except RB) but not so well elsewhere. It took him many years to acquire two competent Gs and six years to acquire two competent OTs. He has yet to draft a competent CB. He hit on Nick Collins in his first draft and took 5 years to draft a 2nd competent S. He spent the 5th overall pick on AJ Hawk and until last year, had not drafted a competent starting LB in six years. Why he suddenly traded up and selected CM3 last year is anybody’s guess. I figure one of his new defensive coaches pushed him hard.

  6. DaveK says:

    Michael – why do you think a trade is such a remote possibility. This is about the only time of year that TT makes a trade. Martin, Grant, etc..

    • Michael Rodney says:

      It’s not a remote possibility, but it’s not the slam dunk it should be. The coaches really like Poppinga and they seem pretty happy with Zombo. That wouldn’t leave room for another OLB. We’ll see what happens.

  7. Monty says:

    In the end you go to war with what you have. It seems each year the Packers go into the season blind (management and head coach) and thus we have not made it to the promise land for quite some time. We will see by Saturday who we go to war this year.

  8. Yoop says:

    Zombo not much of an athlete? 6-3 254# 4.72 40 time, 4.29 short shuttle, 7.12 3 cone drill, 35.5″ vertical, 23 reps at 225# GO get some real info and see how he stacks up against the TOP 15 OLB’s in this draft.

    • Michael Rodney says:

      I did better than look up his stats. I watched him live at practice and in a game. I also spoke to a person who I trust. That’s how I judge players. It’s not foolproof, but it’s served me very well over the years.

  9. Yoop says:

    I have done the same games and practice both for Green bay and in college and completely disagree, he shows very good change of direction and lateral agility that would be the good short shuttle and 3 cone drill times, a better bull rush then Jones and Poppinga that would be 23 reps at 225# leg strength with 35.5″ vertical, and shows the ability to dip and slide under the OT and is quite good with his hands.
    He shows instincts and coverage ability that surprised me for NEVER having played OLB.
    Add that to the FACT that was doing most of this in Green Bay on a BAD ankle and that tells me even more about the kid.
    Now tell me what in your and someone you trust observations makes you both think that he is not a good athlete?

    EXACTLY what those observations over the years tells you that?

  10. Archie says:

    Zombo getting hyped because cupboard is bare at OLB and he made a big play in each pre-season game. As I said originally, he’s a poor man’s CM3. Is that good enough to back-up at OLB? On this team, maybe. I doubt any of us want to see him starting during the season.

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