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ST. LOUIS – Michael Sam says there's no doubt in his mind about what he should take away from his first NFL game action.

"That I can play in this league," the St. Louis Rams' rookie defensive end told reporters Friday night. "That's the most important. I was kind of nervous. I got some nerves out today. It was a very good learning experience, and I can play in this league."

For better or worse, Sam was as advertised in a 26-24 exhibition loss to the New Orleans Saints that made him the first openly gay player to participate in an NFL game when he entered with about 5 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

He hustled for a hit on New Orleans third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin outside the pocket. He added a couple QB pressures, one wiped out by a defensive holding penalty and the other on what looked like a blown protection. He also stopped Khiry Robinson on a run for no gain.

"I make plays," Sam said. "That's what you're supposed to do."

But the athletic limitations that have raised questions about Sam's pro potential also were on display for the dozen scouts for other NFL and CFL teams on hand at the Edward Jones Dome.

"I think he's going to struggle against the run. But he does have a little juice off the edge," one of the NFL scouts in attendance told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity for competitive reasons.

"He's a chase player right now. He's too stiff to play inside. He's got straight-line speed. I don't think he has very good quickness. It's a bit surprising he played left end because he's not that strong."

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds on the flip card the Rams distributed in the press box, Sam is relatively undersized to go up against big right tackles. Yet most of his roughly 30 snaps Friday night came on the left side.

It may be a reflection that coaches don't feel Sam has the first step to beat more athletic left tackles. He did use a speed rush on one play to beat Saints backup right tackle Thomas Welch, who got the better of Sam later on a third down, punching him to the ground.

"He does fly around a little bit," the scout said. "He's a good hustle player. I just wonder if that's enough. He's a stiff dude. But if you can run and hustle, you give yourself a chance."

There were times all that hustle seemed to catch up to Sam. He called for a sub before one third-down play, and Rams coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged he looked tired.

The hit on Griffin was the clear highlight Friday for Sam, 24, who said he "should've dove at (Griffin's) legs earlier" and missed the chance for another sack because he pulled up, thinking it was a screen.

A cheer went up from the alleged crowd of 54,850 – perhaps half that many actually were in the building – when the PA announcer said Sam's name after the hit.

"When I'm in game mode, I stay in game mode," Sam said. "But if there was the crowd yelling for me, I think that's pretty cool."

The reaction was rare for a seventh-round draft pick, as was the crowd of several dozen reporters surrounding Sam in the locker room after most teammates had left. But Sam is, of course, a rare case in a lot of ways.

How does a player who profiles as a designated pass rusher convince coaches he's worth a spot on a team that has no interest in taking starting ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long off the field for third downs? Sam has about three more weeks to figure it out.

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