St. Louis Rams

July 29, 2014

Rams' Sam on fitting in: 'Everything is smooth'

So far, defensive Michael Sam has had no problems fitting in with the St. Louis Rams.

"Very positive,'' Sam said of his first week of training camp. "Everybody is excited to be here in camp, we believe this is going to be a good year for us. Everything is smooth.''

Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, is just another rookie trying to earn a roster spot for the Rams.

"He's competed with the rest of them,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's been doing a great job.''

Asked what Sam had to do to make the Rams' 53-man roster to start the regular season, Fisher said, "No different than the rest of the rookie class. They have to be competitive, they have to make plays, they have to improve throughout camp and you have to see him do things in preseason games.''

Sam, a seventh-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, is trying to make a team that has one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL.

The Rams return their entire starting defensive line of Chris Long, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn along with backups William Hayes, Eugene Sims and Matt Conrath. They added defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the second of their two first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

"It's a lot of pressure, but I believe in myself and I believe in my talent,'' Sam said. "Chris, Eugene, Robert -- they are all helping me. They want me to make this team. They're excited that I'm here. I couldn't belong to a better D-line.''

Sam, who had 11 1/2 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last season as a senior at the University of Missouri, stood out in one-on-one pass rushing drills on Saturday.

Sam said he shed 13 pounds before training camp to an effort to get quicker.

"I want to run fast, don't you?'' Sam said. "I am faster. Losing that weight got me faster.''

That extra speed also could help Sam with playing on special teams.

"He did a really good job as a blocker,'' Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel said. "I can see him being a good guy on punt return and kickoff return as a blocker as we continue to groom him covering kicks, which requires long speed which is something that he'll develop."

Sam was a left tackle at Hitchcock (Texas) High School, so he's not a stranger when it comes to blocking.

"I'm kind of surprised myself with how good it went because I haven't played special teams in two years,'' Sam said of practicing in pads with the special teams units on Sunday. "I thought I did great.''

The entire Missouri coaching staff with the exception of head coach Gary Pinkel attended the Rams' practice on Tuesday.

Sam chatted with those coaches, including defensive coordinator Dave Steckel and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, for about 10 minutes after practice.

"Their report day is Sunday,'' Sam said. "I told my defensive coordinator and my position coach to tell the guys good luck, good luck this season.''

Being so close to his college -- Columbia, Mo., is about a two-hour drive from St. Louis -- is making Sam's transition to the NFL easier.

"Mizzou is home,'' Sam said. "I couldn't have gone to a better team than the St. Louis Rams. Mizzou is just two hours away. St. Louis is just like Columbia. This is home.''

In light of the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal last year, NFL teams are holding sensitivity training during training camp.

Fisher said the Rams will have their sensitivity meetings within the next week.

"I don't think it ever hurts to talk about general respect for other people and other players,'' Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "I think it's a prevalent topic not only with the stuff that happened last year down in Miami, but obviously with having Michael in the locker room. There is a need to talk about general respect for people.

"There is not a problem in our locker room, however it doesn't hurt to go around and remind people about it. Just be sensitive to it. I'm sure guys will complain because it is another meeting, but better safe than sorry in my eyes.''

Fisher doesn't believe in rookie hazing. You'll see a Rams rookie carrying a veteran's helmet and shoulder pads off the practice field, but that's all he'll allow.

"We have a philosophy about that, the rookies are here to help us win and if you treat a rookie like a rookie he's going to inevitably do something stupid and act like a rookie,'' Fisher said. "They are part of the team and they are treated with respect and, no, we don't sing, and you may see one carrying a helmet in, but that's about the extent of it.''

Laurinaitis, who was a rookie in 2009 under coach Steve Spagnuolo, recalls singing Keith Sweat's "Nobody.''

"My rookie year I had to sing a song,'' Laurinaitis said. "Embarrassing. You have to know the audience for one, and if you can get everybody in the chorus singing along with a song they like, it kind of helps you out. You can cut it short then. If you go up there and sing country, not a whole lot of guys except for the offensive line will know what the heck you are singing and you'll be booed because nobody knows it.''

Sam drew a large crowd of reporters around him for his post-practice press conference on Tuesday.

Sam said he didn't care about the media attention that he's receiving.

Asked if he wants to be a trailblazer, Sam said simply, "I'm a football player.''

Sam said he's confident that there will come a time when he's not longer asked those kind of questions.

"When I lay somebody out that first game,'' he said.

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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