Coach Jeff Fisher said early Wednesday morning that special teams will not be a determining factor for the evaluation of rookie defensive end Michael Sam. Injuries, however, may dictate the course the Rams are forced to take with rookie defensive ends Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks.
Westbrooks and Sam were expected to battle for the ninth and final defensive line position for the Rams, but with injuries to many of the key players ahead of them, the Rams may decide to keep both.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher says the decision on Michael Sam making it will be almost entirely based on his defensive ability, not special teams.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 26, 2014
Westbrooks has been referred to as the better athlete of the two, standing two inches taller than Sam and having the ability to play multiple positions in the defensive front. Westbrooks was dominant during his junior year at D-2 West Texas A&M, being named national defensive player of the year and compiling 19.5 sacks.
Westbrooks senior season was less successful statistically, but he still managed seven sacks and a team leading 19.5 tackles for a loss. Westbrooks picked up two sacks during the East-West Shrine game, but went undrafted during this seasons May draft.
Sam, who performed poorly during the draft combine and subsequently fell to the seventh round of the draft, also dominated at times during his collegiate career, being named the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Sam has made some improvements during his time with the Rams and has produced during his limited time in the preseason, compiling an impressive three sacks, including one of Johnny Manziel during Thursday’s victory over the Cleveland Browns.
During that game, the Rams suffered ankle injuries to Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers and were already without William Hayes, who underwent three offseason surgeries.
With the injury trouble, the Rams, who have kept nine defensive lineman each of the last two seasons, may be inclined to keep ten this season. Westbrooks flexibility makes him a more valuable player than Sam, but Sam’s production can’t go unnoticed.
If the Rams do choose to keep only nine, Sam’s flexibility may hurt his chances of making the team. If so, it’s quite possible that Sam will be picked up by another team. Whatever the outcome, Westbrooks and Sam have both proven themselves as capable NFL players on a team full of talent on the defensive line.