Sam, Gaines get significant preseason time for Rams
The national media made a big deal about Michael Sam’s NFL preseason debut Friday night. ESPN.com made Sam’s performance its headline story Saturday morning.
Last year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a seventh-round pick competing for a roster spot for the St. Louis Rams, played for about two quarters. He entered with less than six minutes left in the first quarter and exited about halfway through the third quarter.
In the process, he got some pressure on New Orleans’ backup quarterback, Ryan Griffin, a couple of times, blew up a running play and got some time as a blocker on special teams.
“Mike played hard,” coach Jeff Fisher told the media. “I didn’t watch him individually but I saw him on the hurry and the great effort outside the pocket. Saw him on a couple other plays. He slid down and made a play in the run game that stood out. We’ll watch the tape and see how he did.”
Fisher has pointed out in recent days that it’s rare for a defensive end to become a special teams standout and that if Sam is to become a productive NFL player, it’s likely going to be with his hand in the dirt as a pass-rushing defensive end.
According to Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sam impressed NFL scouts in attendance.
“He had some explosion off the line of scrimmage. You could see a different, higher energy from him from the start. He had several quarterback pressures, showed some excellent bursts of speed off the line of scrimmage on pass plays, chased down Saints backup quarterback Ryan Griffin a couple of times in the backfield and did a decent job on the few running plays that came in his direction,” Burwell wrote.
“His first tackle came with 11:57 left in the second quarter, when he split through two blockers and nearly tackled running back Khiry Robinson in the backfield then dragged him down for no gain.”
Sam and E.J. Gaines each got some loud applause as home-grown Missouri talent, making the leap from Tigers standouts to Rams draft picks and rookie hopefuls.
Gaines actually started for the Rams with several St. Louis cornerbacks sitting out, including first-teamers Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. He allowed a 25-yard touchdown to fellow rookie and Oregon State standout Brandin Cooks, allowing a completion and whiffing on his open-field tackle attempt.
But beyond that, Gaines performed well. He was “a solid tackler and mostly sticky in coverage,” ESPN’s Nick Wagoner wrote. Gaines also forced a fumble and gained valuable repetitions by playing during the meat of the first preseason game, even though that’s usually limited to the first few drives.
Overall, the two Missouri standouts from the SEC East championship team in 2013 didn’t earn or lose a roster spot, but they acquitted themselves well. If they perform this way the rest of the preseason, Sam and especially Gaines will have a good chance to stay on the roster into the regular season.
Missouri got some nice exposure as a program with curious viewers tuning in to see how Sam would perform, in addition to the loyal fans of the Rams and Saints watching the preseason game.
Auburn product Tre Mason, a nightmare for the Tigers in the SEC Championship game, also plays for the Rams. He earned a game-high 15 carries and rushed for 51 yards.