Michael Sam has said that he'd rather be seen as Michael Sam, the football player while he's at the scouting combine. Not Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft. Of course, that's impossible, but when Sam hit the field at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium for his part in the drills that included defensive linemen and linebackers on Monday morning, the focus was solely on his football skills.
In the 40-yard dash, Sam took a false start on his first run, and then put up an unofficial 4.79 on his first full try. He looked a lot like he does on tape -- he ran a bit too high, was more gliding than explosive and didn't really stand out in any particular direction.
He had a false start on his second try as well ... and then, another. Finally, he took off and looked very much like he did on the first run, except that he was a bit slower with an unofficial 4.84. It was clear with all the false starts that Sam was trying to get rolling with as much quickness as possible, but he's not a player who's faster on the field than he was on the track -- with the occasional exception presented by tape of him beating a tackle on the outside edge.
The real NFL question will be whether Sam fits better as an outside pass-rushing linebacker, or perhaps as a run-side defensive end. I don't think he has the pure explosiveness to excel as an edge rusher in a four-man front where he'll have to take on blockers inside and get by. However, I have seen him stunt inside and get skinny through gaps and create pressure. Like most mid-round draft picks at his nebulous position, Sam is a player whose attributes will have to be tailored to a specific set of schemes. He's not going to come in and just blow everyone away wherever you put him.
"I’m a pass rusher," Sam told the media last week. "If you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I’m going to get the quarterback. Whoever coaches or GMs, this league is a passing league, I’d like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher ... I can drop back in coverage as well. My specialty is rushing the passer." It's a specialty to be sure, but how special is it really? Based on Monday's results, Michael Sam's best combine performance will unquestionably be when he took the podium in front of that huge media throng on Saturday, and said what he needed to say.