Monday, August 22, 2011

The Zombo Aftermath

AHHH! Get your mitt off my broken scapula, coach!
I don't have all the information yet, but it's a safe to say to say that second-year OLB Frank Zombo will be out for some time. Zombo broke his scapula (shoulder blade to us less medically inclined folks) when he collided with FB John Kuhn in warm-ups before the Arizona preseason game. And he played with it. If he was trying to prove his toughness and grit, he's convinced us. But if he's trying to be the Packers opening day starter opposite Clay Matthews, he's now out of contention.

McCarthy has indicated that he believes Zombo will return "sooner rather than later," but word is that this type of injury takes about six weeks to heal. That timetable for recovery would put us well into the regular season, so it's all but a given that Erik Walden will be the starter at OLB. Additionally, Brad Jones, who I think was previously a candidate for the cutting block, can now feel a little safer about his roster spot.

While this much may be true, there's a lot of uncertainty involving depth at OLB, as well as Zombo's own roster status. Because he's not eligible to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, the Packers really only have three options.

Option 1 - Keep him on the active roster
As McCarthy intimated, Zombo has a history of overcoming injuries in a timely fashion. He fought through an ankle injury last preseason to make the team, and recovered from a knee injury in time to start in the Super Bowl and make a key contribution. This injury may mean that he's out of contention to be the opening day starter, but there's no reason to think he can't recover quickly and be healthy and available a week or two into the regular season.

This approach, however, would necessitate taking out some insurance, and probably keeping an additional OLB on the 53 man roster. UFA outside linebackers Vic So'oto and Jamari Lattimore, who are both on the bubble right now, would be the likely candidates. However, by keeping Zombo on the roster and carrying an extra OLB, there may not be room on the team for the likes of a Chastin West or a young defensive back like Josh Gordy.

Option 2 - Place him on Injured Reserve
It's never appealing to place a guy on IR and render him ineligible for a whole season, when in reality his injury will only keep him out for a handful of weeks. But that may be an option the Packers have to consider. Reserving a roster spot for an incapacitated Zombo at the expense of another player is equally unappealing. While the Packers like Zombo and want to keep him as an option for next year, they may decide that the gap between him and Walden and Jones is minimal enough to move on without him available for 2011.

If the Pack go this route, then they definitely need to add another OLB behind Clay Matthews, Walden, and Jones. Again, barring the addition of an outsider, that competition would come down to So'oto and Lattimore, and the loser would probably end up on the practice squad.

Option 3 - Cut him
With the option to place him on IR, cutting Zombo seems pretty unlikely. At the very least, you'd probably want to bring him back and have him compete in 2012. But we've seen Ted Thompson make rasher decisions before. Perhaps the Packers were only planning on moving on with two OLBs out of the Zombo-Walden-Jones trifecta, and Zombo has just eliminated himself from consideration. Perhaps Ted Thompson concludes that Zombo's health problems will always make him an unreliable asset, and decides to part ways with him now. Who knows. While this option is definitely a remote possibility, I wouldn't be completely caught off guard if it transpired.

At this point, this is all speculation. Until we know for certain how long the Packers expect Zombo to be out, it's futile to think one of the above courses of action is a guarantee. But these are the options Thompson and Co. are considering as they wait for the prognosis. If they can afford to wait, it's Option 1. If they need the roster spot for someone else, it's Option 2. And if TT wants to flabbergast us once again, he'll go with Option 3.

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