- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Missouri defensive end, who acknowledged publicly that he is gay in an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Sunday, was on the North team coached by the Falcons staff at the Senior Bowl. Sam received instruction from defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and the rest of the defensive staff throughout the week.
During the early portion of Senior Bowl practices, new Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox was asked about the 6-foot-1, 260-pound Sam making the transition from end to linebacker, which he would have to do if playing in a 3-4 defense rather than a 4-3 scheme.
"Good athleticism," Cox said of Sam. "You know what he was in college in terms of big plays that he made for Missouri. And you look at the [Cotton] bowl game when he had the big strip at the end of the game to win it for the team. So you know that he has some pass-rush ability.
"You're looking for his versatility; kind of showcase his ability to play linebacker as well as playing the defensive front. He's just trying to showcase who he is. He's a very talented guy."
So would a Falcons team in need of help along the defensive line consider drafting Sam? It all depends on what type of impression he left on them during the Senior Bowl week and how he performs at the upcoming NFL scouting combine. General manager Thomas Dimitroff, assistant general manager Scott Pioli and player personnel director Lionel Vital no doubt have an idea of what type of player Sam could be in Nolan's system. Although undersized, Sam showed the ability to rush off the edge, accumulating 11.5 sacks on his way to becoming an All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Some say Sam hurt his draft status by struggling to make the transition to linebacker at the Senior Bowl, although he had a sack in the game. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said Sam is a fourth-rounder as of right now, with the possibility of him going in the third round.
The Falcons could address a portion of their defensive line needs via free agency, and the chance remains for them to possibly trade up from the sixth overall spot to land South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, projected as a top-five pick. Making such moves might result in them addressing other needs in later rounds rather than looking to add another pass-rusher such as Sam.
The Falcons also would have to consider if they are willing to deal with the distractions that are sure to surround Sam's arrival. No matter where he ends up, he would be a focus of attention, regardless of his playing status. For a team coming off a 4-12 season, such a factor has to be examined.
But here's another factor in Sam's favor: The Falcons have a strong locker room led by two former Missouri Tigers, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety William Moore. Sam redshirted during Weatherspoon's final college season in 2009. Weatherspoon and Moore were on the sideline this year for Missouri's Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, as reported by Comcast Sports Southeast's Ashley Zavala. So Weatherspoon and Moore had a close view of Sam's big play.
We'll see if Falcons fans get a close view of Sam at training camp.