This article is a part of our 2013 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating players on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Senior Prince Shembo finished second on the team with 7.5 sacks last season.
OLB Prince Shembo
6-foot-2 | 258 pounds
Experience: Played in 38 games, started in 21
Stats: 97 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 14 sacks
No player on Notre Dame’s defense has spent more time on the field in the past three years than Cat linebacker Prince Shembo. The explosive 258-pound Shembo has played both outside linebacker positions during his career for the Irish, but settled into an ideal role at the Cat spot last fall.
Shembo was one of three freshmen to play in every game of the 2010 season. He averaged almost 10 snaps per game on defense and established himself early as someone who could cause problems in an opponent’s backfield. The rookie had two sacks and forced a fumble on a trip to Boston College in early October.
The following year he moved to Dog linebacker to get more playing time rather than being stuck behind eventual NFL Draft pick Darius Fleming. He made 31 tackles despite playing away from his natural position and missing one game when his father was hospitalized unexpectedly the previous night. Last year, he moved back to the Cat, where he plays almost 50 percent of the time with his hand on the ground. His production doubled in terms of tackles and sacks.
The 6-foot-2 Shembo doesn’t have the height defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is looking for in his outside linebackers, but he has learned how to use his stocky build and quick burst to his advantage. He finished second on the team last season with 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
“I might be shorter than everyone else, but I’ll smack the crap out of you,” he said in the spring. “Short guys have some advantages.”
Shembo has grown into a major threat as a pass rusher while being able to stay on the field in any down-and-distance situation. His experience and his talent will make him a leader of sorts during his final season with the Irish.
2013 Job Description
Diaco said he’s hoping Shembo can take the next step in developing specific advantages for his size this fall. The coach talked this spring about Shembo learning to study individual opponents for weaknesses to exploit on a weekly basis.
“We’re taking his game from, just to put it in terms some people might identify with, a master’s level to a Ph.D. level,” Diaco said. “He really needs to work on the tools that suit his biomechanics for rushing the passer.”
For Shembo that means spending more time developing his strengths as a pass rusher than worrying about building up other weaknesses in his game. The senior will have help from junior Ishaq Williams, who Notre Dame is hoping will become more of a regular contributor this season. Shembo will still be expected to be at the top of the list of defensive leaders in both production and in the locker room.
What make a good year?
For most defensive players, especially those who spend a good amount of time at the line of scrimmage, bottom line numbers are not a great way to measure success or failure. That’s not the case for Shembo in his senior season. This year will be about putting up big statistics for the Irish.
Shembo and Tuitt have the potential to be among the best pass-rushing tandems in the nation this year. A season ago they combined for 19.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries. The two of them had more sacks than 35 total teams in 2012. That number should go up this fall. Shembo has the potential to reach double digits in sacks, especially with Notre Dame’s coaching staff seemingly allowing him to pin his ears back even more than in the past.
“I think continually getting after the quarterback is what we need from Prince,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “There’s some work there left for him. I think what he brought last year consistently was a readiness; he was ready to play each and every week. But I think there’s another level for him in our third down nickel package as a pass rusher.”
Shembo might be able to elevate himself into the top three or four rounds of the NFL Draft with a strong final season at Notre Dame. That means raising his sack total into double digits and his tackles for loss into at last the high teens while not leaving any big gaps elsewhere in his game.