The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Sports

February 22, 2014

Sam attempting to focus on football

INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Sam somehow managed to avoid the media storm his coming out announcement created for the past few weeks.

On Saturday afternoon, however, the Missouri defensive end stared right into the heart of it.

Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL during May's draft, and that possibility drew the largest media crowd of the week to his podium at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Southeastern Conference's co-defensive player of the year spoke for about 13 minutes and made it clear he doesn't see his sexual orientation as an obstacle to his career.

"I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, and I don't think anyone means it," Sam said. "I think (some are) a little naive and uneducated, but as time goes on everyone will adapt."

The real questions now are about how well Sam's game will adapt at the professional level.

He compiled 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in the nation's most competitive college football conference last year. But at 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds, he's seen as something of a "tweener" in the pros — a player who might not be big enough to play defensive end or athletic enough to play outside linebacker.

Ultimately, that's the notion he must disprove at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"I'm a pass rusher," Sam said. "If you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I'm going to get the quarterback. This league is a passing league, I'd like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher."

Indianapolis Colts star Robert Mathis faced similar questions about his size coming out of college. He compensated with an outstanding burst off the snap, using his speed to disrupt offensive gameplans.

Mathis, in fact, could provide a professional role model for Sam. He made the transition from 4-3 defensive end under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell to 3-4 linebacker under Chuck Pagano and had the best season of his 11-year career with 19.5 sacks in 2013.

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