Michael Sam on preseason debut: 'I can play in this league'

Rams rookie DE Michael Sam had a solid preseason debut. (USATSI)
Rams rookie DE Michael Sam had a solid preseason debut. (USATSI)

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One of the non-quarterback-related story lines to emerge from Friday night's preseason games was the debut of Rams rookie defensive lineman Michael Sam. Partly because he's a seventh-round pick trying to make the team but mostly because he's the first openly gay player to appear in an NFL game.

We wrote Friday that while Sam's story is an important one, his sexuality is a footnote to the bigger question: Can he play football in the NFL?

Asked after the game about what he learned in his debut, Sam said, via USAToday.com, "That I can play in this league. That's the most important. I was kind of nervous. I got some nerves out today. It was a very good learning experience, and I can play in this league."

After taking the field with about five minutes to go in the first quarter, Sam showed some of the  pass-rushing skills that made him the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year. Whether it will be enough to earn a roster spot is another matter.

"I think he's going to struggle against the run. But he does have a little juice off the edge," one of the NFL scouts at the game told USAToday.com's Tom Pelissero.

"He's a chase player right now. He's too stiff to play inside. He's got straight-line speed. I don't think he has very good quickness. It's a bit surprising he played left end because he's not that strong."

NFL Network's Steve Mariucci, a former NFL coach with the 49ers and Lions, said that Sam will need to find his way onto special teams to improve his chances of making the club, but coach Jeff Fisher said before the game that defensive linemen rarely play special teams.

Sam entered Friday night's contest as the Rams' ninth-best defensive lineman, and he's listed third on the depth chart at defensive end. He'll likely battle undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrook for one of the final roster spots.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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