EARTH CITY, Mo. — Michael Sam burst off the line during his first play of the St. Louis Rams' 11-on-11 red-zone drills during their organized team activity Friday, swinging wide of tackle Travis Bond and taking a long path to the quarterback, as he did regularly during his All-America senior season at Missouri last fall.
Bond, a second-year player out of North Carolina, gave the off-balance Sam a little shove as he went by, causing the pass rusher to lose his footing and slide to the turf.
Welcome to the NFL, rookie.
"I've got to step my game up to compete with this defensive line," Sam said. "I thought our defensive line at Mizzou was pretty tough. This is a whole new level. I've got to up my game."
Sam, the 6-2, 261-pound defensive end who became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL when the Rams picked him in the seventh round May 10, is trying to be one of the 53 players that differentiates himself out of a roster of around 90 when the Rams make their final cuts later this summer.
For now, his life is very similar to his fellow rookies: nights of studying the playbook and days of taking what he's learned to the field.
He said it's a welcome change from the three months after he came out to the world via ESPN and the New York Times, when the focus centered squarely upon his sexuality and social importance.
"It's been a long time coming," Sam said. "Last year, during this time, I was already playing football past spring practice. But you know what? It felt good to put my helmet on and get out there. Grind."
Sam worked with the second-team defense at left end, behind seven-year veteran Chris Long, during Friday's session.
He also worked some with the punt protection and punt block special-team units, hearkening back to his early days at Missouri.
Sam had to prove himself then as well.
"I'm getting back in the motion," Sam said. "I've got to lose a little bit more weight to get my speed back for special teams. I don't want to be heavy playing special teams."