Chiefs outside linebacker Frank Zombo won’t be awed by the moment.
Zombo is one of two players on the Chiefs’ roster to have started in a Super Bowl, so he doesn’t expect to wilt in the glare of replacing team sack leader and Pro Bowler Justin Houston on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Houston, who suffered a subluxation of his right elbow last week against San Diego, did not practice on Thursday, and coach Andy Reid was to meet with team doctors to discuss the results of an MRI taken on Tuesday. A club spokesman said the MRI results were “favorable,” meaning surgery may not be necessary.
So in the meantime, Zombo, who originally entered the San Diego game when right outside linebacker Tamba Hali departed because of an ankle sprain, will slide over to the left side on Sunday as Hali is expected to be available for the Broncos.
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“I’ve been in this position before,” said Zombo, who signed with the Chiefs in the offseason as a free agent from Green Bay. Zombo spent three seasons with the Packers, including his rookie year in 2010. Zombo started and made five tackles with a sack of Ben Roethlisberger in the Packers’ victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
“I feel like I jumped into the (San Diego) game and played well. I was aggressive against the run and was able to get a few good pass rushes. I was able to do my job, and I was happy with how I played.”
Zombo, 6-feet-3 and 254 pounds, has been an underdog throughout his career. He went undrafted after playing at Central Michigan, and made the Packers as a rookie free agent.
Though he appeared in 25 games with the Packers, including nine regular-season starts, he was limited by hamstring and shoulder injuries in 2011 and 2012. He was not re-signed by Green Bay during the offseason and is having to prove himself all over again with the Chiefs.
“I’m kind of a blue-collar guy,” said Zombo, who has been one of the Chiefs’ top special-teams players this season, highlighted by a recovery of a fumbled punt that preserved the victory over Cleveland on Oct. 27.
“I don’t have some of the same talent-sets that some of the other guys have, but I’m high effort aggressive and that’s what makes me a good football player.”
Zombo’s four sacks in 2010 ranked second in the NFL among rookies to a pair of first-round draft picks that year — Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, who had 10, and the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 4 1/2 .
In the season opener of his rookie season, Zombo sacked Philadelphia’s Michael Vick. He followed that up with sacks of Chicago’s Jay Cutler, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and San Francisco’s Troy Smith.
Zombo had missed the six games leading up to Super Bowl XLV because of a knee injury but started the title game in replace of Erik Walden, who was out because of an ankle injury. When Zombo sacked Roethlisberger for a 2-yard loss in the third quarter, he became the first non-drafted rookie to post a sack in a Super Bowl since the statistic became official in 1982.
Zombo also got a tackle for loss on the second play of the game when he dropped running back Rashard Mendenhall for minus-4 yards.
“Frank is a very talented guy,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “He’s physically tough. He’s got a great mind-set for the game. He’s aggressive to me, he plays in a fearless mode. He just attacks.
“That’s what you want from any player, and certainly a guy who is coming off the bench to become a starter that’s really critical. You don’t want to be on your heels. He hasn’t had the advantage of a lot of reps since training camp, but he’s highly competitive and he’ll do fine.”
Zombo also has experience against Denver’s Peyton Manning and sacked and forced a fumble of the then-Indianapolis quarterback in a 2010 preseason game.
“It wouldn’t be bad to get him again,” Zombo said of Manning, now the Broncos quarterback. “I’ll do everything I can to add another sack to the bag.”
The Chiefs, with a healthy Hali and Houston, were unable to sack Manning two weeks ago at Denver, and Zombo carefully studied their efforts.
“After the game, I was surprised, wow, our guys didn’t get any sacks,” Zombo said. “I assumed, like a lot of people, that they didn’t play very well. But after watching the film, they played extremely well. The ball was just getting out extremely fast they did their job well in the Denver game, and I hope to do the same thing.
“Both of those guys have been extremely helpful to me. Normally, I’ve been a straight-like, power rusher, but they use their hands and work the edge, and I’ve learned a lot from them. These are definitely some big shoes to fill, but I’ll give it my all, and I think it will play out fine.”