FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Falcons head coach Mike Smith said on Saturday that fourth-round pick Prince Shembo is so versatile than he could play defensive end, inside linebacker or outside linebacker.
When this fact was mentioned to Shembo on the second day of media availability for the team’s rookie mini camp, it was news to him.
"He said that? When? When was this?" a surprised Shembo asked a reporter.
Smith often talks about the value of flexibility and the Falcons see plenty of that in Shembo. The Falcons say they are going to present multiple fronts on defense, even though it seems they mostly will be based out of the 3-4.
Shembo, 6-foot, 253 pounds, could play a 4-3 defensive end, or a 3-4 outside linebacker.
"He’s got the flexibility and, as you know as you have watched this defense develop and mature, we’ve got guys who line up in different spots," Smith said. "It may look like he’s lined up as an inside linebacker but when the ball is snapped he’s doing the job of a defensive end. To me, that’s the fun part of putting this defense together and (defensive coordinator Mike Nolan) and has staff have done an outstanding job of evaluating the things that we did well — which there weren’t a whole lot of — but the things we’ve got to improve on and how we can improve.
"It’s going to be very important for us to make sure that we put our guys in the most advantageous situation for the match-ups because that’s the most important thing."
Shembo said he was a 3-4 outside "rush" linebacker at Notre Dame but that he also played some with his hand in the dirt (lined up as a lineman). He said he’s trying to bone up on his techniques during rookie camp to improve his pass-rushing ability. The Falcons ranked among the worst teams in the NFL last season in terms of sacks.
"If I learn all these techniques that they’re teaching me, I could probably start getting under guys, using all my strength to push them and propel them forward so I think that will be good," Shembo said.
Shembo was one of four linebackers the Falcons drafted. That creates plenty of competition — in addition to the returning players from last season. Shembo said he was undaunted.
"You compete," he said. "Competition is great. Go against all the competition and go as hard as you can. Learn from the older guys. Do what coaches are telling you."
He said if the mood was any more intense in the linebackers meeting room — these sessions have been heavier in the classroom than on the field — he has not noticed it.
"No, I’m just in there learning," he said. "I’m just listening and writing. It doesn’t really bother me, intense or not. I’m an intense guy naturally. So I’m just trying to listen."
Spoon, Julio to sit
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee) and wide receiver Julio Jones (foot) continue to recuperate from injuries they suffered last season. As a result, Smith said they are unlikely to participate in offseason team activities (OTAs) when they begin after Memorial Day.
Most of the rest of the roster should be set to participate.
Allen on Trufant
Fifth-round pick Ricardo Allen, a Purdue product, is the third cornerback the Falcons have drafted in the past two seasons. They also signed veteran Javier Arenas during the offseason and have Robert McClain returning. McClain has been the Falcons nickelback for most of the past two seasons.
Allen was asked where he thought he fit into the mix with all of those players.
"I feel like I fit in on special teams," he said. "I fit in in the nickel packages, I fit in in the dime packages. I’m just here every day to come and compete and make those guys better and make this organization better. At the end of the day, the best players are going to be on the field.
"I’m not saying I’m the best player but I’m going to come out and compete and I’m going to work as hard as I can and I’m going to suck in everything the coaches give me and I’m going to give myself a chance to be one of those players on the field."
Allen brought up the fact that Desmond Trufant, the Falcons’ first-round pick of last year, was someone whom he studied.
"I studied a bunch of film going into my senior year and junior year," he said. "Trufant was like one of my favorite corners to watch because he was so technical sound and he works. He went to work every play. Every wide receiver he went up against he made sure he tried to shut them down and he took that all the way through his senior year and even through the combine. He’s just a worker and I’m happy to be here with him and (Robert) Alford," the Falcons’ second-round pick of last year.
Allen said he and Trufant have met briefly. During one meeting, Trufant helped him out with a coverage.