Michael Sam continues to pursue NFL

ByJosh Weinfuss via ESPN logo
Monday, March 23, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Michael Sam's first step to getting back in the NFL began Sunday morning under a hot Arizona sun.

The former seventh-round pick of the St. Louis Rams was one of 105 free agents to go through position-specific drills in front of scouts from all 32 teams at the NFL's first veteran combine hosted at the Arizona Cardinals' practice facility.

Or as Matt Birk, the NFL director of football development, who organized the veteran combine, said, they were "fighting for their football lives."

Sam's fastest 40-yard dash was 5.07 seconds unofficially. His initial attempt was clocked at 5.1 seconds, also unofficially. At the NFL scouting combine in 2014, he ran the 40 in 4.91 seconds.

Sam said he did not talk to any scouts, instead meeting with the media immediately after his workout before quickly leaving the Cardinals' facility while the other defensive linemen in his group lingered around to cool down and recover.

He refused to answer nonfootball questions, including one about whether his appearance on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" will affect his chances to make a roster.

"Next question," Sam replied.

Before leaving in a rush, Sam said he has a desire to play in the NFL.

"As long as I still have that will, as long as I'm still healthy and can play this game, you will continue to see me fighting to get in this league," he said.

The 2013 SEC co-defensive player of the year's more recent NFL tenure was on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. Dallas released him on Oct. 21, after nearly seven weeks.Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted when the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick in 2014.

Sam's first professional game may not be in the NFL. And it may not be in this country. The Canadian Football League could be an option for the 6-foot-2, 261-pound defensive end.

"I am very confident that I will be playing football this year somewhere," Sam said. "So we'll leave that at that."

Sam was asked to clarify whether the CFL was still an option.

"If that's an opportunity, then I will take it," he said.

But he would play for whichever of the 32 NFL teams wants him.

"I'll play for whoever," Sam said. "If the Rams or Cowboys want me back, I will go there [on the] first flight out."

Sam said he's been working out in California getting "football-ready." He made his "Dancing with the Stars" debut on March 16 and is scheduled to participate in Monday's live show.

Sam said he reported Sunday with improved fundamentals, singling out better hands and improved footwork as examples of his progress. If Sam finds another NFL home, he said he'll be leaning on his experience with the Rams and Cowboys.

He cited St. Louis veterans Robert Quinn and Chris Long as former teammates who helped him along the way.

"Those guys taught me a lot," Sam said. "I used that today, and hopefully when I get back on another team, I can use what they taught me to better my career."

One of 19 members of his defensive line group, Sam was among 1,800 to 2,000 applicants for the veteran combine.

Birk said the participants were chosen after he asked team personnel departments what kind of player they wanted to see. The responses showed Birk that teams wanted younger players who had short rsums and not a lot of film.

But veterans like defensive end Adam Carriker, who missed almost two full seasons with a quadriceps injury, also were in Arizona to show scouts they were healthy.

Success Sunday wasn't going to be evaluated by how many of the 105 players were signed, Birk said.

"We'd love guys to get signed," Birk said. "I think that would make everybody feel good. Then obviously our teams would feel really good about it. Our players would feel good about it. The future, everybody would feel good about it.

"There's a couple other things we're providing here. Teams might have 50 of these guys on their board, and after watching them work out, they might cross 20 of them off. That's not the desired result that I think we'd all like, but that's providing a service and value for our clubs."

Birk called the veteran combine the first step for many of the players' comebacks, especially those who had previous injuries. Instead of teams flying a player in for a workout only to realize in the first five minutes that the player wasn't fully healthy, the teams could've seen Sunday who wasn't and who was in good physical shape.

The next step would be bringing in a player for a visit, giving him a physical and a workout with a position coach. The last step would be a contract.

"I think everyone, if you get one shot, you should get two," Birk said. "Because one time you can get buried [on] a depth chart or you can get hurt or just a bad fit or whatever. Get them a second look, and then if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out.

"But then guys can then move on and say, 'OK, I got a fair shake. Got a chance to show my talents, and it just wasn't meant to be.'"

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