St. Louis Rams rookie defensive end Michael Sam came away from his first NFL preseason game feeling like he belonged.
Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, made history when he lined up at left defensive end with five minutes left in the first quarter of the Rams' 26-24 preseason loss to the New Orleans Saints on Friday night.
"That I can play in this league, that's the most important thing,'' Sam said of what he took away from his first preseason action. "I was kind of nervous. I got the nerves out today. It was a very good learning experience, and I can play in this league."
Before the game started, Sam said the magnitude of the moment hit him.
"During the National Anthem I was like, 'Wow, this is the big stage,''' Sam said.
Sam made an impact. He registered one tackle, one quarterback pressure and one quarterback hit.
"Mike played hard,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after the game. "I didn't watch him individually, but I saw him on the hurry and the great effort outside the pocket.
"I saw him involved in a couple other plays. He slanted down, made a play in the run game that stood out.''
After reviewing the game film, Fisher on Saturday toned down his assessment of Sam's play.
"Mike played pretty well,'' Fisher said. "Got tired, just like (rookie defensive tackle) Aaron (Donald) did. He was in the 35-to-39 play range. He played with effort.
"He made some mistakes. I would expect him to play much better this week after he gets whatever behind him like the rest of the rookie class and first-year guys. The first preseason game is a little nerve-racking, but I think he'll settle down.''
Sam felt like he could have done better.
"I could have gotten two sacks,'' Sam said. "On one, I thought it was a screen, and it wasn't, so I was upset."
Sam also saw playing time on special teams, something that could help him in his quest to make the Rams' 53-man roster.
"He had several snaps on kick return,'' Fisher said. "He was out there deep, now they may have been touchbacks, but he was out there. I've said this, Michael is a defensive end. He plays defensive end with his hand down. There's a lot of talk about Mike being a 'tweener,' maybe a stand up pass-rushing linebacker.
"He's not done that. It's rare to find a defensive end playing special teams in the National Football League. They don't do it. It's the linebackers that do it, all the other position groups do it. We have one that's unique on our team right now in Eugene Sims that plays right guard on our punt team and he's done it since he got here and he's done very, very well.
"If Michael can find a way into the core group of special teams -- in which we're going to give him every opportunity to do so -- that's going to help his opportunity to make this team, but again there's not a lot of defensive ends that play on special teams."
Brodine's season is over
The Rams lost tight end Mason Brodine to a season-ending ankle injury in the first half.
Brodine, a first-year player out of Nebraska-Kearney, broke his left ankle.
"I feel bad for Mason because Mason's worked hard over the last couple years,'' Fisher said. "(He) was active at Oakland and then was on the practice squad all last year. It's just a very unfortunate part of this game, but he'll heal up.''
Tight end Alex Bayer, an undrafted rookie out of Bowling Green, was the Rams' leading receiver with five catches for 71 yards.
"He's taken a lot of snaps here in camp and he had over 40 snaps in the game,'' Fisher said. "He's hanging in there and continues to make the plays. He's reliable. He's getting to the right spot, and the young quarterbacks trust him.''
* Quarterback Shaun Hill looked capable of handling the job of backup to starter Sam Bradford by completing 5 of 7 passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
"We expect him to do that,'' Fisher said. "That's what he's done for years. He has a good feel for what we are doing, a good sense for timing and throws a nice ball, a catchable ball.''
Cahokia High School graduate Terron Armstead started at left tackle for the Saints. He played in the Saints' first two offensive series before exiting.
* The Rams are 4-4 in the preseason under Fisher.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.