BEREA, Ohio -- The St. Louis Rams took a chance on defensive Michael Sam, and the rookie out of the University of Missouri is working hard to earn his spot, not only on the roster, but in the top of the defensive end rotation.
Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, was a seventh-round selection that many draft analysts said was an "in-between player" too small to play defensive end and too slow to play linebacker at the professional level, despite the fact that he was the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
"My role right now is to do whatever I can to help the team win games and go to win a championship," Sam said Tuesday during a youth football clinic at the NFL Rookie Symposium. "When training camp comes, and I try to compete for a position, then, hopefully, my role will not only be playing on special teams, but also, playing in the game, in the rotation at D-line.
"It's a business, and I'm learning the business side of things. Football is still football, which is great. I'm learning a lot from my position coach and my defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams), (special teams) coach (John) Fassell. It's a great transition, but the No. 1 thing is, it's a business. It's a production business."
As part of his introduction to the NFL, Sam, and his rookie teammates, have learned how to take care of each other when on the practice field, particularly when it comes to experiencing a concussion.
"They preach every day about it," Sam said. "We want to take care of each other. We know this is a contact sport, so things might happen, but the Rams, and I'm sure every other team in the NFL, are doing everything they can to prevent concussions and prevent injuries."
In addition to learning to protect himself and his teammates, Sam has gained a better appreciation for making a fast mistake rather than a slow decision when stepping onto an NFL field.
"Sometimes, I don't want to say they're smart, but football smart? Yeah," Sam said. "It's fast. It's very fast. Everything is full speed. If you make a mistake, it could cost you that win in practice or that win in the game. You've got to pay attention to the details. You've got to do everything. If you do make a mistake, just do it full speed.
"I've been a rookie since I've signed. They treat me like a rookie, and we're all rookies. It still hasn't hit me yet. It's still like a dream. It's very positive. It's very fun. I'm excited to be playing for the Rams and I'm excited to be in the NFL. It's fun."