KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There may have been a bit of good news for the Chiefs on Thursday: Linebacker Justin Houston, second in the league in sacks with 8 1/2, was back at practice in a helmet and going through warm-ups.
Whether Houston, who suffered concussion-like symptoms after the Tennessee game Sunday, can play this Sunday remains uncertain.
The Chiefs are taking the cautious approach.
“We want to get him back 100 percent, that’s for sure,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said prior to practice.
And if Houston can’t go, it will be next man up, which is expected to be Frank Zombo, who signed with the Chiefs this season after three years in Green Bay.
Zombo is no Houston, but he was known as a pass-rushing specialist himself in Green Bay. He recorded four sacks in part-time duty during the Packers’ Super Bowl season of 2010.
Zombo had a sack and two tackles for loss in the Packers’ Super Bowl win over the Steelers, a fact not lost on Sutton.
“He’s played well in the past at Green Bay,” Sutton said. “He’s a sharp guy who picks things up quickly and has high energy.
“We feel like he can go in there and do the job right now. He’s pretty smooth in coverage and he’s intense and can get (to the quarterback). We won’t be doing anything less with Frank in there than Justin.”
So how did Zombo end up in Kansas City? Mostly because of a numbers game. The Packers have had a glut of linebackers the last two years, though that surplus has been depleted lately with the loss of starters Brad Jones and Clay Matthews.
“I didn’t really get released (by the Packers),” Zombo said. “My contract was up and they didn’t re-sign me. But they had a lot of linebackers at the time, whereas now they’re kind of hurting right now.
“But I enjoyed my time there and now I’m here. It’s the way the business goes.”
Zombo signed with the Chiefs even though they already had Pro Bowl linebackers in Houston and Tamba Hali.
“I think John Dorsey had a lot to do with me coming here,” Zombo said. “You know, in Green Bay I was hurt a lot, especially the last two years. This is the first year I’ve been healthy. I feel confident when I’m healthy that I can do the job.”
So do the Chiefs, who have been giving Zombo plenty of reps in Houston’s absence. Zombo vows not to disappoint if called upon, especially in terms of pass rushing.
“It’s my job and it’s been what I’ve been doing the last four years of my life,” Zombo said. “I’m here to provide depth and, if needed, step in.”
Zombo, like Houston, likely will benefit playing opposite Hali, who often draws double-teams.
“When I’m on the opposite side of Tamba Hali, it’s pretty nice because you know you’re going to get some single blocking and some opportunities,” Zombo said. “I was used to that in Green Bay playing opposite Clay Matthews. Tamba is a helluva player, too.”
And if it’s Zombo’s turn to step in Sunday against the Raiders, he will get an immediate test trying to contain quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
“He’s a guy who can scramble, so you have to stay in your rush lanes,” Zombo said. “Don’t let him loose. Whatever happens, I know I’m going to get after it.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.