Prince Shembo, Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams

Outside the mold, Shembo thriving at OLB

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While we haven’t actually seen Prince Shembo in action at outside linebacker, all reports from the coaching staff have the expectations for the 6-foot-2, 250-pound sophomore sky high. An interesting proposition, considering that Shembo likely wouldn’t have been on the roster if it were up to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.

“We weren’t really sure to be honest with you,” Kelly said today, when asked about Shembo, a linebacker about three-inches shorter than what the current Irish staff is looking for in outside linebackers. “He was recruited here by the former staff so he was an inside linebacker and we saw some great athletic ability. He’s not in profile, but he has other qualities that make him an effective player.”

Those qualities and that effectiveness were on display nearly immediately, as Shembo became one of the best surprises of the freshman class, kicking off his career as a veritable designated pass rusher, contributing immediately with 4.5 sacks during his limited experience last year.

When Kelly announced during spring drills that Shembo would be working with fellow sophomore Danny Spond at the drop linebacker position it was easy to assume that Shembo would take the snaps as a pass-rusher and run stopper while Spond would work mostly in coverage. That hasn’t been the case, as Shembo has been a quick study at the ‘dog’ backer position, distancing himself from the pack while continuing to develop as a player.

It’s interesting that while Kelly, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin have done an excellent job bringing in prototype edge players like Ishaq Williams, Ben Councell, and Troy Niklas, the two starting outside linebackers for the Irish are two guys that are actually undersized for the system: Shembo and senior Darius Fleming, another 6-foot-2, and roughly 250 pound linebacker.

Eric Hansen in the South Bend Tribune has some great details on Shembo’s upbringing, coming from two parents that immigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to North Carolina, and the younger Shembo appreciates the hard work his parents put in to make his career at Notre Dame possible.

And work is something Shembo embraces from his roots. Shembo’s parents came from Congo – a country of 71 million people now ravaged by war, famine and disease – to attend school at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

“I’ve never been (to Congo),” Shembo said. “But I know what their life was like. You don’t take anything for granted. You have to be grateful, that’s the biggest thing.

“And work ethic. A lot of foreigners, they come here and they don’t start with much. So you really have to build a name for yourself.”

Shembo seems well on his way to do that, and teaches his uncles English in what little spare time he has. A number of other family members have immigrated to the U.S., recently, and thus are also budding football fans.

“Football is soccer to them,” Shembo said. “And I did play soccer when I was younger. But as I got older, I had to choose, and I picked football. My dad just told me to be tough and play.”

And that he does, even though ND may never recruit another 6-2 outside linebacker in the Kelly Era.

With Fleming and Steve Filer graduating this year, Shembo might be the last of a breed: a regular sized outside linebacker.

Five years ago, with the Irish gearing up for a BCS season, Charlie Weis relied on a 6-foot, 215-pound Travis Thomas to start at outside linebacker.

The defense has certainly grown up.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.