NFL

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Michael Sam realizes he must step up game to stick around with St. Louis Rams

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ST. LOUIS - Michael Sam is confident he'll be judged on performance.

The first openly gay player drafted in the NFL said Friday there have been no issues fitting in with his St. Louis Rams teammates, no awkward moments in the locker room and that he was accepted right away.

"They respect me as a human being," he said. "And as a football player."

Being a bit of a cut-up helps cut the ice, too. Sam skipped all of the media days last season at Missouri while saving his announcement for February, but teammates will tell you he has quite a sense of humour and is not the least bit sensitive about off-colour jokes that can fly behind closed doors.

"If anybody had any reservations about who he was to begin with, he wins them over pretty quick," said wide receiver T.J. Moe, who played with Sam at Missouri. "They're laughing so hard, they can't breathe."

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers said Sam was asked to stand up and tell a joke on Friday. The verdict: "Totally funny."

"We don't really focus on the outside stuff," Brockers added. "He's our brother, he's on our D-line and that's where it sits."

Working out with the full squad this week, Sam realizes he must step up his game to carve out a spot on a loaded defensive line. He said he's spending a lot of time poring over the playbook, too.

No doubt the Rams will give Sam every chance to succeed. But like any seventh-round pick, it's an uphill battle.

"It's faster, you've got to learn a lot more plays, you've got to know what you're doing," Sam said after a two-hour session. "You're supposed to perform at a high level and I'm doing pretty good."

Sam got a lot of snaps at left end with the second team defence, moving up on the depth chart because veteran William Hayes is rehabbing from an injury. He's been getting a lot of work on special teams, where the Rams might break him in.

The Rams had one of the top pass rushes in the NFL last year with ends Robert Quinn, second in the NFL in sacks, and Chris Long both former first-round picks. So are tackles Brockers and rookie Aaron Donald, plus Kendall Langford was a major free agent pickup a year ago.

"I'm telling you, they get after it," Sam said. "I thought our D-line at Mizzou was pretty tough. This is a whole new level."

Everyone, Sam said, has been willing to help. Nobody, Long said, gives a hoot about the fact he's gay.

"Only the media cares," Long said. "The players don't care, we just care about what kind of football player you are.

"We got a steal in whatever round we took him in."

Players picked way ahead of him don't seem to mind that Sam's getting more attention.

"He's a cool guy," Donald said. "We get along well and we're trying to get ready for the season together."

The 260-pound Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season. After the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick late in the seventh round, general manager Les Snead called him a designated pass rusher.

Sam said he's probably going to have to shed some weight to be effective on special teams.

Among the early goals for the Rams (7-9) is getting Greg Robinson, the second overall pick, accustomed to a new position. Robinson was a tackle at Auburn and the Rams have him at guard.

"I can get my hands on them faster, so it's something I think I can grow into," Robinson said. "But I'm a little rusty. It's been a while since I played guard."

Veterans were challenged, too, by new wrinkles in the playbook.

"Just knocking the rust off, I think, is the biggest thing," Brockers said. "Like coach Fisher said, we're not going to win the division in these next few OTAs."

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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