In two of his team's 12 contest, the Charlotte native finished with an effort that earned defensive MVP honors in our Monday film reviews (Michigan State and Boston College). In five of the 12, a top 10 player finish was the result (Purdue, MSU, Michigan, Pittsburgh, BC). In five more, he earned honorable mention honors for his play (Navy, Miami, Stanford, BYU, USC).
Then there was the 13th game, Alabama, and a nightmare evening on the edge for Prince Shembo along with the vast majority of his previously impenetrable, previously unbeatable teammates.
Fast forward to 2013 and an August camp during which Shembo -- a player who ranked No. 6 among all Irish players in our post regular season film reviews last December -- has gone largely unnoticed.
"I think you guys are missing the boat on Prince Shembo," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. "The way he plays, the passion that he plays the game every single play, it's just so enjoyable. He's a throwback in a lot of ways with his energy and his toughness and the way he comes to work every day. It's 100 percent all in.
"And he plays the game with that chip where 'I'm gonna do whatever is necessary on this play to be disruptive.' You've almost got to take his helmet away from him. I love those guys."
That chip carries over to Shembo's self-assessment of his supposed deficiency at the position.
"In a perfect world, 6'4, 6'5"? No, I'm happy the way I am, to be honest," he said of an unconventional 6'2" 258-pound frame holding the edge. "(Leverage), that's why I want to be the size I am. I'll get under the guy; I'd rather give them a hard time. I've asked a lot of linemen, and they don't like to bend. If I work on my leverage, it's hard to block short guys. I don't have the arm length of a taller person but I make up for it with the strength in my legs. When I get low under them (he wins), that's why I prefer the height I am."
Asked about Shembo's squatly built frame, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco chose to focus on Shembo's myriad assets and his pursuit of excellence.
"I think there are particular things that work for particular guys, that suit their biomechanics," said Diaco. "If you're a long, tall, rangy player, you might execute a beautiful slap or club-swim. Where if you're a smaller-bodied player, that might not be a good idea, as you go to swim you get hung up. And I could list another thousand examples for it.
"Not necessarily for (Shembo) but just in general. There are things players do well and do not do well. So many times players will work on the things that are their liabilities to turn them into either a wash or an asset. Very few times do they attack the field to really make their assets better. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about right now (with Shembo) to flip the brain a little bit."
Advanced EducationThat "kind of thing," in Diaco vernacular, is building up Shembo's chosen field of study: the pass rush.
"As we're working with Prince, we're working to take his game from a Master's Level to a PhD level, where he really needs to work on the tools that suit his biomechanics for rushing the passer," he said. "In analyzing his individual matchup from a week-to-week standpoint to see what he can work on to attack that player's liabilities.
"So conversations we're not going to have with a bunch of folks on the defensive unit, we're going to have (such) things with him. That's where he needs to go. He needs to work on in a more finite detail and drill down on his pass-rush fundamentals and then also analyze the opponent individual matchup to see what is going to work against that player on a week-to-week basis."
According to Kelly, that finite drilling will come naturally for the focused senior.
"We're running a 7-on-7 drill. And you know we're a four-down/three -own team. He's the four-down rush guy. It's 7-on-7 but he's collision-ing the receivers when they're coming across as a four-down rush guy. He just brings and energy to the team, a toughness to the team.
"He's a guy that's not gonna say much but just his energy, his passion and just his actions out on the field and the way he works. You can see just by his uniform, it's drenched every day, about the work he puts in every day."
He put in that work for every game last season, too, and 12 consecutive times it paid off. This year, for the Irish defense to reach its apex, he'll have to up that number to a baker's dozen.
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