Michael Sam Debuts for Rams: Final Stat Line, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam watches from the sideline in the second quarter of a preseason NFL football game between the Rams and the New Orleans Saints Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

On May 10, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player in the NFL. On Friday night, he made his on-field debut for the St. Louis Rams.

The seventh-round pick appeared on the Rams' second series of their eventual 26-24 defeat to the New Orleans Saints, per Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans:

Earlier in the week, Sam called the moment a "dream a long time in the making":

Sam made an immediate impact, pressuring the quarterback on his first play and then recording a QB hit shortly thereafter, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today:

The Score posted a highlight of his tackle on Saints running back Khiry Robinson:

NFL on ESPN posted his final stat line. Although those numbers are far from gaudy, they're a good start for a third-string defensive end:

David Carson, a photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, snapped a few photos of Sam in action:

As with any seventh-round draft pick, Sam is playing for a job. The preseason is his best opportunity to impress the coaching staff and show that he is deserving of a place on the team's final roster.

ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner wrote before the game that Sam's toughest competition will come from Ethan Westbrooks, who's listed as "Other" on the Rams' depth chart at left defensive end:

Westbrooks returned to practice last week and immediately showed some of the pass-rushing ability that had so many teams coveting his services after the draft. He's jumped into the mix at tackle and end since his return. Because he didn't miss any preseason games, he also didn't miss any prime opportunities to begin making a case for a roster spot.

While Sam's play has leveled off a bit since the opening days of camp, Westbrooks could be primed to make a statement in the next few weeks. For what it's worth, Westbrooks is well aware that he's standing in the way of one of the league's most compelling stories.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also highlighted the battle between Sam and Westbrooks as one of the top storylines headed into the preseason game:

As the exhibition-game schedule begins, undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks could be the one roadblock to Michael Sam making the 53-man roster. After a good start in training camp, Sam’s play has leveled off over the last week. After missing the first several days of camp because of a hamstring issue, Westbrooks now has a few days of camp under his belt and looks quick and menacing.

Westbrooks played in the game, but he failed to get his name on the stat sheet. It's way too early to give either player the edge at this stage.

While Sam is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, collegiate accolades count for nothing in the NFL. Just ask former Heisman Trophy winners like Jason White, Troy Smith and Matt Leinart, none of whom enjoyed successful careers in the league.

Much work is still left to be done for the 24-year-old. Three more preseason games remain between now and and when head coach Jeff Fisher will trim the roster down to 53.

Deion Sanders said that Sam should find former Rams great Kevin Greene and get some pointers, via the NFL Network:

Sam's performance was encouraging, but it was far from the sort of otherworldly show that will make him immune to being cut already. In order to be a part of that final 53, he'll have to build upon his progress on Friday night.

The deeper into the preseason he goes, the more imperative it will be for him to make an impact. Just making one tackle and hitting the quarterback won't cut it a month from now.