EARTH CITY — The whistle blew, giants in cleats collided on grass, and the rookie who broke a barrier by announcing he is gay made himself known.
Football, finally, for Michael Sam.
"Good look, Mike," St. Louis Rams captain and linebacker James Laurinaitis said from the sideline after the former Missouri defensive lineman beat offensive tackle Sean Hooey on the edge and pressured backup quarterback Shaun Hill into throwing an interception.
Visitors to the team's training camp Saturday saw moments like this that evoked Sam's incredible 2013 season at Missouri. Other times, though, they were reminded why Sam was considered a late-round prospect for the NFL draft. Sam, almost always the shortest player at his position, was called for a false start, to Hill's ire, and had trouble penetrating the pocket from the inside during a scrimmage.
Sam spent the majority of Saturday's practice playing on the left side of the line with the second team defense in place of injured veteran William Hayes. On Friday, the first full day of training camp, Sam played on the right side. Sam took the majority of his snaps at Missouri on the left side of the line.
"I have not been on the right side in a few years," Sam said. "But, to be available in this league, you have to play both sides to be a d-lineman."
The fact that he was on the line at all is somewhat telling. Sam was dubbed a "tweener" during the buildup to the NFL draft — a player who is undersized for the defensive line but not seen as fast enough to play linebacker.
There was some speculation that Sam, who has lost 13 pounds since the conclusion of organized team activities, could move to an outside linebacker position.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he likes what he sees from Sam so far on the defensive line.
"He's improving," Fisher said. "Mike's doing a great job. (Defensive line coach Mike) Waufle was working with him on hand placements and things like that."
Waufle will be influential when Fisher has to cut his roster down to 53 players. The team cut four players earlier this week but added four more to put the total at 90. Sam knows making this team, known throughout the league for its strong defensive line, will be no easy task.
With players putting on pads next week, Sam will have more opportunities to impress veterans and coaches alike.
"My job is to make this team, that's my No. 1 priority," Sam said.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.