Johnny Preseason

Michael Sam (Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
Rams DE Michael Sam didn’t make a big impact in 33 snaps against the Saints in his preseason debut. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

St. Louis: Michael Sam has to beat out two other contenders to make the Rams.

EARTH CITY, Mo. — Michael Sam has been one of the most famous people in America over the past six months, since he announced he would try to become the first openly gay player to win a spot on an NFL team. The Rams picked him in the seventh round of the May draft, and now, to win that spot, he’ll have to beat out two green defensive ends who are not household names in their own households: Sammy Brown, a second-year undrafted player from the University of Houston; and undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks from West Texas A&M.

That’s the football news coming out of St. Louis on Sam. The social news is better than I thought it would be. Far better. Sam’s been like wallpaper. Unnoticed, fits in well. He’s said no to every national interview request—Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, everyone—and will continue to do so, I’m told. “The only time we talk about the story,’’ Jeff Fisher said, “is when someone from the media comes in and asks about it. I can’t emphasize enough how smooth and uneventful it’s been. Mike has been great.”

“I think some people on the outside look at him like he’s some kind of alien,” Sam Bradford told me. “He’s fit in so well. He’s just a guy trying to make a football team.”

He’s managed to be one of the guys, I’m told, by not being overly sensitive. “What he’s doing,’’ said former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out as gay after his short pro career, ‘is saying, ‘Everyone knows I’m gay, and let’s not make it the secret no one talks about.’ It’s Michael Sam fitting in. I give the team lots of credit too. When I went there after the draft to talk to the team, one player raised his hand and asked me, ‘How do we make Michael Sam comfortable on this team?’ That tells me the Rams were ready, and the league was too.’’

“I told the team if anyone wanted to talk about it, anything about it, come talk to me,’’ Fisher said. “No one has.”

The Rams made no special accommodations for Sam, and he asked for none. He has spoken to the local and national press once this summer, in a group, and then again after Friday’s game against the Saints. The most impressive of the three marginal competitors in the loss to New Orleans was the aforementioned Westbrooks, who had three tackles and two quarterback hits. Sam: one tackle, one quarterback hit, one pressure. Sam played 33 snaps and seemed to tire near the end of the game. But he had two strong rushes, one on a fast outside move—he dropped 13 pounds to 257 in the month before camp. He needed to be faster, he thought, and so he lost weight and got a smidge quicker.

I think some people on the outside look at Michael Sam like he’s some kind of alien,” Sam Bradford says. “He’s just a guy trying to make a football team.

When Sam’s first game was over, he found a group of friends in the rotunda outside the Rams’ locker room—two were wearing his No. 96—and embraced them and howled, “This is the REAL DEAL!” Then, he repeated it at least four times. It was the raw excitement of a rookie who had just gotten his first taste of real, live pro football. The fact that he had just made history, as the first openly gay player in the league, was secondary in his mind all night. “I was focusing on the guy in front of me,” he said. After the game, he was running through his mind two plays on which he thought he should have had sacks. One: He chased down New Orleans quarterback Ryan Griffin outside the pocket and got a hit on him, and another when he pulled up too soon, thinking it was a screen. Sam’s NFL debut began with about five minutes left in the first quarter, during the Rams’ second defensive series, giving him plenty of chances to prove he belongs. The first time Sam’s name was announced over the Edward Jones Dome PA system came late in the first quarter—“Under pressure from No. 96, Michael Sam”—and a cheer rose from the crowd. Trailblazers draw more attention than your standard seventh-round pick: Sam’s jersey was the sixth-best selling in the NFL since April, and when he got off the rookie bus three hours before kickoff Friday night, he was met by a security guard and filmed by a cameraman. But his takeaway from his first NFL game was exactly what every late-round rookie is trying to prove:  “I can play in this league,” he said.

Barring injury, eight St. Louis defensive linemen (Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Williams Hayes and Eugene Sims at end, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington at tackle) are likely to make the team. Jeff Fisher is likely to keep nine defensive linemen, though depending on special-teams contributions from other spots he could keep as few as eight or as many as 10. Say it’s nine. That means Brown, the versatile Westbrooks and Sam are probably fighting for one spot on the 53-man roster. There is the eight-man practice squad that Sam could make as well, if he doesn’t earn a spot on the 53-man roster. I’d be surprised if he didn’t at least make that.

If Sam doesn’t make the practice squad, you’ll know he had a poor camp and was a non-factor on special teams. As of now, he’s slated to play one kicking team—as a wedge blocker (one of the two interior blockers) on the kickoff-return team, and he debuted there against the Saints. The fact that he lost 13 pounds to, in part, be faster for special-teams play was not lost on Rams GM Les Snead or Fisher.

Sam’s doing everything right. Now he needs a big hit on a quarterback in the final three games, or a few pressures from his lighter weight making him faster. Said Rams VP of football operations Kevin Demoff last week: “He’s got four games to prove he belongs.” Three now. Every snap’s an opportunity. Every snap for his competition is an opportunity too.

ST. LOUIS CAMP REPORT: Progress could be overshadowed by schedule

* * *

Stories of the weekend…

Flagville. Good work by John Clayton, adding up the illegal contact and defensive holding penalties from the first 17 preseason games. The league wants defensive players to have hands off after the five-yard bump zone at the line of scrimmage, and to not hold or grab at all. Rest assured it won’t be called as closely in week one of the regular season as it was over the weekend; the theory is players will get used to the new strictures and will stop all the clutching and grabbing mostly naturally. Back to the numbers: There were 37 illegal contact penalties all of last regular season; there have been 27 in the first 17 preseason games. There were 171 defensive holds calls. So far this preseason, 53 defensive holds have been whistled. The Bills have their defenders practicing with boxing gloves; St. Louis defensive backs take the field in scrimmage holding tennis balls, so they’re tempted to not grab. I’m told the league plans to officiate tight in the preseason, but I cannot imagine the same ticky-tack stuff being called once the regular games start. We’ll see.

Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense looked in midseason form against the Texans. (Matt York/AP)
Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense looked in midseason form against the Texans. (Matt York/AP)

Fan abuse continues. Fans in Washington (average ticket price: $218) didn’t see healthy scratch Tom Brady when the Patriots came to town Thursday. Fans in Tennessee (average ticket price: $113) didn’t see healthy scratches Aaron Rodgers or Jordy Nelson Saturday night. Fans in Detroit (average ticket price: $153) didn’t see healthy scratch Calvin Johnson on Saturday night.

Extra points from the 15. Two got missed in 16 games over the weekend. Good. The extra point should be harder, and I don’t consider kicking from the 33 much of a hardship. “Listen,’’ said Sean Payton after Saints kicker Shayne Graham missed a PAT Friday night, “we’re not talking about hitting a 50-yard field goal here.” Right on. Discussing it Sunday at Vikes camp with Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, a charter member of the Kickers United Party, he said, “I understand the Competition Committee wants to make it more of a challenging play, but especially if they move it out to the 43, like they have been talking about, you definitely will have game decided by a made or missed extra point. I’m not sure that’s what the Competition Committee intended.’’ Yes it is. The Competition Committee wants it to be a play that matters, with something on the line—not a 99.6 percent sure thing, which it is now.

What a night for the Cardinals. The first-team offense had two drives. Carson Palmer (five of five, TD pass) led one, Drew Stanton (four of four, TD pass) the other. Arizona skunked Houston 32-0. That’s a garish-enough score, but just think of the way the Cards’ offense went through a team with pretty good defensive talent. Said in some form for the 949th time summer (and it’s only Aug. 11), “The NFC West could be all-time great.”

The honeymoon is on for Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. He likes the screen game! He likes to play smashmouth! Three screens (according to Pro Football Focus) Thursday night against the Niners, all complete, for 33 yards. And the Ravens rushed for 237 yards, lots against backups, but the will was there. Kubiak’s more the kind of play-caller and offensive philosopher to fit John Harbaugh’s style of play.

Revelations: Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, a burner, sprinted 69 yards with a touchdown pass, leaving Bengals in the dust … Just saw a few Giants’ highlights, and Jason Pierre-Paul was the beast the Giants need so badly in the pass-rush game … Mark “Contract Year” Ingram steamrolled some Rams. Looked terrific … Dri Archer, the Steelers’ rookie version of Darren Sproles, wowed the Giants.

Matthew Stafford had better stay healthy. I can’t imagine the Lions doing anything but mailing in the rest of the season if Dan Orlovsky, a heck of a nice guy, had to play. He just can’t do it, as Saturday night’s performance at Ford Field illustrated.

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255 comments
JRoy_20
JRoy_20

With these practice squad increases across the league, this could be big for bubble players. I'm hoping to see rookie QB Brock Jensen of NDSU picked up somewhere and put on PS. His potential is something many people want to see in this league. The kid is a winner and has proved that. Also very talented and developed. He played in the FCS like Romo, but proved to win big against teams in the Big 12 (youtube NDSU/Kansas St final drive) Would really like to see him get a shot. 

pricklypearcycler
pricklypearcycler

Look at all of the white guys in the Fox broadcast booth for the Chief's/Panthers game.

JoeMoon
JoeMoon

Judge Wilken ruled five thousand dollars 'max", not minimum. 

Far different implications.

wwrightmcdonald
wwrightmcdonald

"When he finished showering and dressing (white button-down Oxford shirt, dress jeans) after the game, he stood at his locker and quietly talked on his phone or talked to a couple of the team PR guys softly."


This is the kind of journalism that wins you the Red Smith Award! But seriously Peter, how big is your pants-tent for Johnny Manziel on this day in mid-August? Inevitably with the Browns, Hoyer will lose the job, Manziel might be lucky to win 6 games while learning the coverages and check-downs and progressions, and the Browns will be slightly better come next off-season. Next story please!

VoodooPeoples
VoodooPeoples

I cant not imagine someone telling you to go bleep yourself 19 times, 18 should have been enough. lol 

Ciscos
Ciscos

I said this the other day about Johnny Football. Marketing will say he needs to be the starter.  Logic says Hoyer. I lean toward Hoyer cause marketing has never won a football game.


Hoyer, limited experience (as some like to point out) or not, he has game experience.  That game experience counts for a lot when the season comes.  Manziel, obviously doesn't.  And once NFL defenses start scheming for him that wild ride at the amusement park is going to come to a screeching halt.


Manziel will have his day and his time.  It's just not right now.  That is unless Hoyer gets hurt or stinks up the place.

tmadz
tmadz

RE: fan disagreeing with Kain Colter about student compensation/union organizing


If you're going to disagree with a Northwestern graduate and hope to have any credibility, don't say "Bro".

JTsportsguy
JTsportsguy

Does anyone seriously NOT think Johnny Football will have any success in the NFL?  We have him ranked right now and are BUMPING up his rankings - his first week was impressive, he ran effectively and threw efficiently.  http://www.fantasyfballchamps.com

BillyBobRoberts
BillyBobRoberts

The Brownies might be clueless, but they know Hoyer is not a franchise QB. He's just ok. Johnny should and will be the starter. This year is wasted anyways because they can only score FGs, especially if Gordon is suspended. So why not start the rookie?

Nuadormrac
Nuadormrac

"As far as football goes, I’m seeing him put the ball on the money like a veteran. Sometimes the receiver drops it. Sometimes the receiver isn’t even looking for the ball and it bounces off him. He’s got the confidence a quarterback has to have.” "


This, would be why a QB can be inclined to run the ball, especially if they are able to both scramble AND throw.  Confidence includes not only confidence in one's self, but in one's receivers, which also needs to be demonstrated.  Even top QBs, if they had receivers who have a case of the dropsies can either end up getting a look of frustration (look at Tom Brady's face during many games last season before Gronkowski returned for a time), or can be inclined to pass on a possible receiver if there are a lot of drops.  Case in point, when Jermichael Finley kept dropping the ball, and Aaron Rodgers went to throw to other targets (who were also more likely to catch the thing).  Finley balked, and talked about QB chemistry, while complaining that Rodgers seemed to be ignoring him, but the fact is Rodgers had to make a judgment call, on what would most likely to be a successful play.


These are some of the known top QBs, who can be in this position.  If Brady was likely to pick Wes Welker (when he played for the Pats), or Gronk, if Rodgers were to pass more often to some receivers then others (though Rodgers has arguably passed it around a fair bit), it isn't simply a personal matter.  If someone wants the QBs attention, they also need the QBs confidence, that they're good on making the play.  Passing involves 2 players, not just one.  There's the one throwing it, but also the one catching it.  For the play to be successful, both players have to be on their game.


If he isn't sure who he can count on to catch, when he sees someone who doesn't have his head in the game, and the ball just bounces off the player who isn't even looking for a pass, as QB he has to make a judgment call, on how likely that guy is going to catch the ball when the game counts on it.  If running the ball is more likely to get a successful play, that can weigh in on the decision.  And without sounding like Finley here, chemistry, and developing chemistry as the players play with each other can be a part of it.  But this isn't all on the QB either, unlike what Finley suggested, because the receiver is part of the equation and does need to actually try to catch the ball (which Finley had not).  Receivers not even looking for the ball, and getting hit by the thing as it bounces off them, is none too good, itself...

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

yeah the biggest problem for the browns, is one player they have now gordon, will likely be out the entire season, i mean this is one of the dumbest things of the cba where a player can play in the pre-season, i mean anyone understand the reasoning behind that.


as for sam, he'll likely end-up on the practice squad and pk putting out there that katie couric and anderson cooper weren't granted interviews tells you all you need to know, again if this guy were any other 254th pick in the draft, he would be ignored

eddie767
eddie767

P.K.

     20+ K had nothing to do with Pats/Brady in town, Rich.VA. That's everyday for the 3 wks they are here. What changed was there were Pats jerseys mixed with some CBoys ones. We, the fans, support daily. Now, the question should be do these ppl have jobs. Just joking. Glad you came to town.

SentryVirginia
SentryVirginia

Give him 1.5 years, then its "RGIII time" in the hospital watching football on TV.

KBowen7097
KBowen7097

7 of 11. One incompletion was caught barely out of bounds. One was dropped. One would have been completed if a more veteran receiver had slid of gone to ground. That could easily have been 10 for 11.

Knute
Knute

Johnny Football is Lightening in a bottle, do not stopper him up, the other guy, well just the other guy!

Aggie81
Aggie81

I guess the fact that all of the Cleveland players standing on the side line watching (instead of sitting on the bench), and a few making the "Manziel money" gesture after he completed the scramble up the middle of of the field for a first down eluded this reporter.  Or how the stands emptied after Johnny was done playing for the evening....


Johnny "Cash", "Football", "Heisman", Manziel  teased everyone just enough to tune in next Monday Night for a little more of what's to come...


magicvilas
magicvilas

Dan-O stunk, but Kellen Moore looked great.

I know it was against scrubs, but it was WITH scrubs too...

He put every pass on target.

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

I try not to dislike a player due to media hype (Its not Jadeveon Clowney's fault that ESPN showed his play vs Michigan 900 times a day) but they getting to me with Manziel. I want to see him do well but I am tired of hearing about him.

LucilleBluth
LucilleBluth

What a stupid blurbed that Martez Wilson bit is. If you like a player enough you sign him and send someone home, simple as that. The NFL has proven time after time to be a heartless business(watch Hard Knocks in the coming weeks) yet is to soft to send a guy home because they were overseas?? Really!?!?


I don't think there should be a team in London but not because of that ridiculous anecdote. 

metalhead65
metalhead65

hey Peter you should also check out Johnny Cueto and his stats playing for a offensively challenged reds ball club. kershaw's numbers are impressive but so are Cueto's.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

Why doesn't that logic apply to Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, or John Elway - to name a few?

Nuadormrac
Nuadormrac

@KBowen7097 

The receiver is just as important a part to the passing game, as is the QB...  Just look at Tom Brady's facial expression in the games from last season (himself a proven veteran QB), after he was down Welker (went to a different team), down Hernandez (went and killed someone and got himself in jail), and down Gronkowski (due to injury)...  Did it effect the game?  Quite arguably, looking at the earlier games last season, but that it wasn't him simply losing it, when Gronk was back, you could see how the games went for the Pats both before and after Gronk's return.


One shouldn't underestimate the importance the receiver plays, even though people typically focus in on the QB.  The QB does depend on his receivers, to have a successful passing game.  This isn't just a Manziel thing either; it applies to just about any QB.  To successfully throw, one also needs the receiver, if that's out, what remains?  The running game, or?


Needless to say, and just to demonstrate also how being able to scramble or run isn't really a bad thing, look at what happens when the Packers (very effective passing attack), goes up against the 49ers.  They've arguably gotten better at addressing more physical teams like the 9ers, but we do see the same thing again and again.


But to have an effective passing attack, there has to also be receivers, that well, do catch the ball.  When the coaches are saying that the receivers aren't always looking for it, and it sometimes bounces off the receiver, when the pass was (the coaches words) "on the money"; does suggest an issue at the receiving end, itself.

Wombat
Wombat

@KBowen7097 I know but almost just doesn't count. He didn't do badly he just hasn't shown anyone enough to get the job or deserve the hype... yet. Give him time. I'm pretty sure he'll be the starter sometime this year and probably sooner than later... but the game this weekend wasn't enough.

Corey9
Corey9

@Knute so much talk about a team that will be lucky to win 5 games

Corey9
Corey9

@Aggie81 maybe against a first team defense too instead of a bunch of guys destined for the practice squad!

Wombat
Wombat

@Aggie81 Really? Even the local sportscasters in Ohio are saying he didn't do much. He may go on to be great but this weekend's game didn't show anything. It's much too early to tell.

Mike D2
Mike D2

@BushidoBrownsRevenge It's only just begun...the kid hasn't even played a snap in a regular season game yet. Blame the media for their obsession with him. He's doing and saying the right things, being a good teammate, and a humble rookie. If you are already tired of hearing of him part of that falls on you for continually exposing yourself to the media, reading this article on SI.com, watching an ESPN segment on the depth chart at Browns camp, etc. Not saying you can totally avoid Manziel talk if you watch ESPN, NFL network, or SI...but it seems like a lot of people rooting against him are all over the media coverage but then use that coverage as the reason they hate him.

Wombat
Wombat

@metalhead65 Very true. If Cueto played for a team that could actually hit he'd be in the running for a Cy Young award... as it is he won't get much attention.

Mike26
Mike26

@BillRobinson Those QB's you mention were all more prepared physically and mentally to take over and learn at faster rates.  John Manziel, if he continues upon his current path, will be so beaten up over the next two years may not make it to three years in the league.  He just doesn't have the history of being the film guy that he'll need to be to improve from playing; the others learned from the field and the film.  Just my opinion...

SandersonKramer
SandersonKramer

@Wombat @KBowen7097 And Hoyer's 6 for 14 has and his 4 starts in the pros has, his one good performance in 2013 has, his being undrafted and released by 2 teams, has?

Mike26
Mike26

@Wombat @Aggie81 You'll have to excuse the Manzealots...those Aggies lose much of their reasoning and rationale when it comes to John Manziel.

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