GREEN BAY, Wis. — Reinforcements are on the way for the injury-riddled Packers. Two key players from their Super Bowl team two years ago, outside linebacker Frank Zombo and tight end Andrew Quarless, are both about to make their season debuts.
It amounts to the equivalent of Green Bay signing two quality free agents in the middle of the season, just in time for a playoff push.
Zombo, who has finally recovered from a hamstring injury, and Quarless, who is back nearly one year after tearing his ACL, were activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list recently.
“It feels good to feel part of the team again, instead of just standing there watching practice,” Zombo said. “I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent, but I feel good enough, I feel functional enough to participate and hopefully provide some depth as a pass rusher at outside linebacker.”
The addition of Zombo is especially important to the Packers’ defense because the team will be without Clay Matthews (hamstring) for at least this weekend’s game against the Detroit Lions. Plus, rookie starter Nick Perry was placed on injured reserve during the bye last week. So, the combination of Zombo, Erik Walden, Dezman Moses and the re-acquired Vic So’oto will have to make up for those substantial losses.
“You have a job, and right now I’m needed at that job,” Zombo said. “It’s definitely a nice feeling. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I can take advantage of it, and make the best of my opportunity. And I’ve done that in the past, whenever my opportunity is to fill in for injured guys, that’s how I’ve gotten my role. It’s worked out for me in the past.”
Zombo, 25, started eight games as an undrafted rookie in 2010, collecting four sacks in the regular season and one in the Super Bowl.
But a slew of injuries put Zombo’s future with the Packers very much in question. In the 26 meaningful games Green Bay has played since the Super Bowl 21 months ago, Zombo has been healthy enough to play in only five of them.
“There’s been quite a few injuries in there and they’ve always kept their faith, and I’m obviously very appreciative of that,” Zombo said. “Hopefully I can capitalize and make it worth their while for keeping me around.
“It’s the NFL, so you know you never have a whole lot of job security, especially when you’re hurt. So obviously (being released) crept into my mind.”
From a fractured shoulder blade to a knee injury to a series of hamstring issues, Zombo hasn’t had much of a chance to build on the success he had as a rookie. But if he can stay healthy, Zombo has pass-rushing talent that fits well into defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme.
“Every time I have been healthy, I’ve had decent games,” Zombo said. “It’s just those injuries kept nagging at me and keeping me out of participation. Nothing real serious but just little things that keep me out.”
Quarless, 24, was also a solid contributor as a rookie in 2010. After starting tight end Jermichael Finley was injured in Week 5, Quarless stepped in and performed well. He caught 21 passes for 238 yards, while showing the versatility to be a good blocking tight end, as well.
“I just get in where I fit in,” Quarless said this week. “Anywhere I can fit in and get in there, I just do it, and I take pride in doing it. I take pride in beating somebody off the ball, beating them up on a block. I take pride catching a 50-yard catch. I try to keep it pretty much even.”
When Finley returned last season, Quarless played much more sparingly. He was still effective in his snaps though, until his knee was severely torn up in Week 13.
Quarless isn’t completely back to full health yet and missed Thursday’s practice.
“We’re suspecting there are going to be days when he doesn’t respond very well from the practice before, and today was one of those days,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday.
However, Quarless did practice Monday and Wednesday and, barring a setback, should make his season debut in the coming weeks, perhaps even in Detroit this weekend.
“I feel truly blessed to get back to the active 53 (roster),” Quarless said. “It’s just amazing. Mentally, it was great just to get back under the play-call and be in the huddle with (Aaron Rodgers).
“The knee, the confidence has been there. These past three weeks (of practice) took it to the next level. I felt ready at the beginning of the season, but I wasn’t practicing. I know I said I was ready at the beginning of the season, but I wasn’t practicing, so now that I’ve had three weeks of practice, I can stand here and really mean it. Not saying I didn’t mean it before, but now I can have something to back it up.”
Quarless, at 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds, is a big-bodied pass-catching tight end, like Finley, who Rodgers can throw to in the middle of the field. When Quarless gets a chance to see that pass flying his way in an upcoming game, he’s not sure how he’s going to react emotionally.
“I hope I don’t shed a tear, but it’s going to be a good one,” Quarless said. “I can’t wait, whenever that call comes.”