With three of the four preseason games now in the books for the St. Louis Rams, rookie defensive end Michael Sam is one game away from turning his lifelong dream into a reality.
That doesn’t mean Sam has solidified his spot on the Rams’ 53-man roster, because a lot can change between now and September 7, but things do look promising for the seventh-round pick out of Missouri.
Heading into the preseason finale, Sam has tallied three quarterback sacks, four quarterback hits and five combined tackles. Even though those numbers have come against second- and third-string offensive linemen, they are impressive nonetheless.
This, in turn, means Sam has undeniably produced when asked to and deserves a roster spot because of his contributions. However, if the Rams opt to keep him on the 53-man roster, their front-office staff will have to get creative.
I say this based on the fact St. Louis has one of the deepest, most talented defensive lines in all of football. As of right now, Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Kendall Langford and Eugene Sims all appear to be locks for the final roster.
Which ultimately leaves two spots on the defensive line up for grabs if St. Louis opts to keep nine defensive linemen like it did in 2013. The decision on the final two roster spots won’t come easy. Sam, Ethan Westbrooks, Alex Carrington and Sammy Brown are all deserving of the two final spots.
The good news is, Sam may have a leg up on the competition for a couple of different reasons. He has out-produced all three of the players mentioned above, and Brown and Matt Conrath have both battled injuries this preseason.
Not to mention, Sam has performed surprisingly well on special teams in practice.
“At the end of the last competitive drill he did a really good job as a blocker,” special teams coordinator John Fassel said, via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. “I can see him being a good guy on punt return and kickoff return as a blocker.”
From this morning: Rams DE Michael Sam continues to build a case for a roster spot. ... http://t.co/EoOoTrQPqY— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) August 24, 2014
Moreover, one could also say that Sam has improved his craft since the Rams drafted him in April. “He’s improving," coach Jeff Fisher said, via Wagoner. “[Defensive line] coach [Mike] Waufle is doing a great job … with his hand usage and placement things and so, he’ll just keep working at it.”
All things considered, Sam earning the job outright is his most logical path to a roster spot, via Wagoner: "There's a chance the Rams could go even heavier on the defensive line considering some injuries and versatility at other positions, but that's no guarantee. The only way for Sam to make it is to earn it."
Yet that doesn’t mean it is his only way. Another way would be if the Rams made cuts at other, healthier positions.
One of the healthiest and most promising positions in St. Louis is the wide receiver position. At the end of last year, the Rams had six receivers on their active roster.
Does Michael Sam make St. Louis' 53-man roster ahead of Ethan Westbrooks and Alex Carrington?
With Stedman Bailey’s suspension spanning the first four games of the season, there’s no reason why Fisher would need to keep six wideouts. In Bailey’s absence, the Rams will have plenty of talent with Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis.
Obviously, a corresponding move will have to be made once Bailey returns, but until then Sam could easily sneak onto the 53-man roster.
As you can see from Sam’s play on the field, it’s not a performance issue. It’s simply a numbers game. Nevertheless, good coaches always find a way to field the best players week in and week out.
And that’s exactly what Fisher will do. He will pinch a few fringe players and drop underperforming veterans so that a youngster with promise can have his rightful spot on the roster.
Fortunately for Sam, he is that type of promising youngster Fisher covets.