Shembo's first season on the field was spent with his hand on the ground and with the goal of putting opposing quarterbacks there as well. With 5.5 sacks in limited playing time behind standout junior Darius Fleming, Shembo earned the program's inaugural Defensive Newcomer of the Year honor, and was tabbed the next big thing by Irish fans and media.
His 2011 move to Dog linebacker disproved the old adage of "putting your best players on the field," as Shembo was obviously miscast in space and in a role where lateral movement, diagnosing pass patterns and play-action, and coverage acumen are paramount to success.
But struggles in space have prepared Shembo for his fitting at the Cat 'backer spot in 2012.
"Because I played Dog, the coverages at Cat are way easier," said Shembo. "Not as much space, so it's like, 'this is it.' And if there are (slot receivers to cover), its a little space, and I'm not worried."
Shembo noted his personal challenges of Dog weren't with the need for versatility at the position, but with its most obvious requirement.
"Dog is a drop ('backer), that's what it is. It's not being good at so many different things (that's the challenge), its playing in space, keeping up with receivers and at the same time coming up to hit the running back," he said. "If you watch, you see everyone in the box and then you see the Dog out by himself. Its different. You make a wrong decision..its 'sayonara.'"
Cat 'backers drop and cover as well, but as Shembo noted, with the benefit of the sidelines nearby as an extra defender. That, coupled with heavy pass rush responsibility and the ability to hold the point vs. the boundary running game fit well with his skill set.
"I was a D-End in high school" said Shembo. "I just wanted to go get quarterbacks. That's all I wanted to do."
Not all North-SouthShembo has the bull-in-a-china-shop aspect of the position down pat. Subtlety and nuance are however necessary, and the latter was possessed in spades by former four-year starter and Shembo's close friend, Darius Fleming.
"He's a technician, great technique all around and a good listener," said Shembo of Fleming, a 4th-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers last April. "If you can take directions well and blend it with technique you'll be fine. I'm still working on technique, but i'll always listen. Sometimes I talk to Darius still and get some tips."
Shembo will get his chance to rush the passer this fall, both from the Cat spot and a down position when defensive coordinator Bob Diaco calls for a four-man front. This season he won't be pared with a technician, but 6'5" 255-pound specimen also in search of seasoning.
"We're a duo like me and D-Flem were when I was a freshman," said Shembo of sophomore competitor Ishaq Williams. It'll be good (to rotate)."
Asked if he's occasionally envious of the younger Williams' height, the stout Shembo replied, "I always wish I had height. I don't have height, but I have strength, I'm like a silverback."
Shembo hopes to dominate in a manner comparable to his self-assessed primate pal -- this season with a little less space around him.
The Shembo Files: 25 games played (8 starts), 46 tackles including 8.5 for lost yardage, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble.