Falcons' Shembo working his way up

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It shouldn't have been much surprise to see Atlanta Falcons rookie inside linebacker Prince Shembo running alongside Paul Worrilow early in Monday's practice.

Before training camp started, coach Mike Smith promised Shembo would get serious consideration for a starter's role. Then defensive coordinator Mike Nolan talked about Shembo having the best physical stature of anyone on the roster at inside linebacker.

Shembo didn't totally overtake Joplo Bartu during Monday's session, but his increased reps with the first unit seemed to indicate a depth-chart move on the horizon.

"I think that Prince has had a very good training camp," Smith said as the team broke camp Monday. "We have to continue to be in an evaluation mode and get these guys ready and prepared. Obviously, whether he's the first man in or the guy that's out there, he's got to get some work with the first group.

"And we will make sure that we get an evaluation where he's playing against some of the [caliber of] players that he'll be playing against in September, October, November."

Shembo came to the Falcons as an outside linebacker but made the transition to inside linebacker almost immediately. His pass-rush skills were evident in the first exhibition against Miami, when he recorded a sack. His effort and intensity are evident every snap. Now, Shembo has to prove himself in coverage, be a sure-tackler, and show an ability to communicate well when he's asked to relay the defensive signals.

In Saturday's 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans, Shembo played 27 snaps and had three tackles. He was in with the starters on a goal-line play that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run for Texans running back Alfred Blue.

"He's been in our goal-line defense from the very start, so it wasn't something that we did this past game," Smith said. "Prince has done everything that we've asked. He's very conscientious in the classroom. He's eager to learn. And Coach [Glenn] Pires has done a really good job with him in getting him prepared."