NFL Wire News

Sam among players looking for opportunity at Veteran Combine


TEMPE, Ariz. — For 105 aspiring NFL players, Sunday was a day to show teams why they are deserving of another chance at the first Veteran Combine held at the Arizona Cardinals training facility.

For Michael Sam, the first openly gay player who has competed to play in the league, it was the opportunity to show those in attendance he still cares and has a passion for the game.

It didn’t matter that Sam will travel back to Los Angeles for his second appearance on Dancing With The Stars Monday night. He was on the field with 18 other defensive line hopefuls, running the 40-yard dash and other typical drills that are part of the usual combines for rookies.

“I did the best I can,” Sam said. “I did just as good if not better than the other guys here. So I’m pretty confident about that.”

Sam said he has been working hard on the football part of the life, and when asked if his dancing has affected his workouts, quickly responded, “Next question.”

A seventh-round pick of the St. Louis Rams last season, Sam was waived in the final roster cutdown to 53 players and subsequently signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. However, he was released on Oct. 21 and didn’t even get a tryout for the rest of the season. For comparison sake, in the three weeks after Sam was released, 124 players had tryouts around the league, although only 10 were defensive linemen.

Sam had frequent press conferences during his time with the Ram and then late in training camp, ESPN reporter Josina Anderson did a story on the shower habits of Sam and his teammates. One can’t help but wonder if NFL teams simply don’t want to deal with the attention that Sam’s presence brings.

Still, he believes he will be playing football somewhere this year and said there have been talks with teams, but “that’s all there is.”

When asked if the Canadian Football League was an option, he said, “I am very confident that I will be playing football this year somewhere. So we’ll leave that at that.”

Asked about the CFL, he said, “If that’s an opportunity, then I will take it.”

And he said he will continue in his quest for “as long as I still have that will, as long as I’m still healthy and can play this game, you will continue to see me fighting to get in this league.”

Sam wasn’t the only former Rams player at the Combine. Defensive lineman Adam Carriker, who was selected by the Rams in the first round of the 2007 draft, but hasn’t played in the NFL since 2012, was also present.

Carriker’s career was hampered by injuries.

He missed the 2009 season and was traded to the Washington Redskins in 2010. After starting 31 games in 2010-2011, he played just two in 2012 and missed the entire 2013 while with the Redskins. He was out of football last year.

He was cleared medically last summer, and his agent was talking to about 12 teams when the Combine was announced.

“We figured that would be a great opportunity to be seen,” Carriker said. “I’ve been waiting for this day.”

While a large number of the players were young, Carriker turns 31 in May. But considering that more than 2,000 players applied and only 105 were chosen, Carriker figures that’s a good thing.

“Guys constantly change,” he said. “They either getter better or worse. But no one is the same today as they were. There are 100 guys you haven’t seen in a while that are different than the last time you saw them. There will be some opportunities that arise out of this for some guys.”

Carriker hopes he’s one of them.

“I feel good. I feel great,” he said. “I’m not done. I can’t help what’s going on in here (taps his heart). It just beats. That’s why I’m here today.”

In a week where the football world has debated the merits of the game following the retirement of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, 105 men were still chasing their dream.

Another was Caesar Rayford, who was signed by the Indianapolis Colts as a 27 year old in 2013 after bouncing around the CFL and Arena Football. He was traded to the Cowboys at the cutdown to 53 that year and played seven games, but was then released at the end of training camp in 2014.

“Some guys use the front door into the NFL, some guys get in the back door,” Rayford said. “I had to climb the house jump through the chimney just to get into the house. Then I was kicked out of the house and now I’m climbing the house again. I will just keep on fighting being relentless and having perseverance. I have a dream and see myself playing and I will just keep on going after it.”

Overseeing the Combine was former NFL player Matt Birk, now the NFL’s director of football development. Noting that those in attendance are “fighting for their football lives,” Birk added, “I played 15 years in the NFL and I wish I could have played 15 more. That’s how I feel; that’s my decision.

“Anyone who’s involved in this game knows it’s different. There’s something about football. It’s just different and it’s special. We love it. The satisfaction and the rewards outweigh any risks.”

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