Rookie Prince Shembo learning on the fly

ATLANTA -- Prince Shembo learned a valuable lesson during his preseason debut with the Atlanta Falcons: Don't be hesitant.

The rookie linebacker from Notre Dame found himself in such a situation in the second quarter of Friday night's 16-10 win over Miami. Shembo was on the punt coverage team and looked poised to take down Dolphins rookie return man Jarvis Landry for a minimal gain. Instead, Shembo found himself pursuing too hard one way and froze rather than trying to dive and make a tackle. Landry made a quick cut and broke loose on a 48-yard return, helping to set up a field goal.

Shembo made no excuses.

"Coach [Keith Armstrong] said you've got to take a shot and the first guy down, close the big field," Shembo explained. "I was over here trying to take a shot, and I kind of hesitated. And he just zoomed right by me. I was like, 'Aww.'"

So what did Armstrong, the special-teams coordinator, say to Shembo after the play?

"He didn't say anything to me," Shembo said with a laugh. "He's going to talk to me tomorrow.

"I understand, though. The next punt, I made a tackle."

It's all part of the learning curve for the rookie. Armstrong, coach Mike Smith, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan firmly believe Shembo will evolve into a special player, with time. But mistakes will be made along the way.

Give Shembo credit for not hanging his head. Later in the game, he recorded the team's only sack when he lassoed Dolphins quarterback Seth Lobato to the ground. Rookie teammate Ra'Shede Hageman helped the cause by drawing attention up front fighting a double team, allowing Shembo to shoot right through.

"That was good," Shembo said. "Just blitzed through the A-gap, got a rip on the guard, and, boom, sack. I was hyped. It felt like it was a dream. It feels good."

Shembo continues to make the transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Friday's sack off the blitz might be a preview of how he might be utilized throughout the regular season as he continues to push starter Joplo Bartu.

Shembo, the guy Nolan called the most physically equipped player on the roster to play inside linebacker, realizes he has a ways to go, mentally, particularly if he's asked to call the defensive signals.

"Communication," he said of the aspect in need of the most improvement. "It's loud. I've got to make sure everyone understands what I'm saying, everybody gets what I'm saying. Sometimes it moves quick, so I've got to really direct everybody and then get myself set. So I've got to do all those things faster."

It should all come, with time.