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Michael Sam eliminates some concerns at pro day

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Going into Indianapolis last month, the biggest questions that Michael Sam faced had to do with anything but football. He left having answered those -- while opening up a host of new ones, based on the raw numbers he posted at the NFL Scouting Combine.

On Thursday, he started alleviating some concerns following his combine performance.

Sam didn't make himself a ton of money here in his home digs during Missouri's pro day in which he was widely considered the fourth- or fifth-best prospect. Chances are, he's still a fifth-round pick, at best.

But just as he's done off the field, in becoming the first openly gay player to declare for the NFL draft, he was able to create progress on the field in improving by almost every measure over where he was a month ago under the searing spotlight of Indy.

There, he posted an official 40-yard dash time of 4.91. Here, his run came up on evaluators' stopwatches at 4.69, 4.70 and 4.75.

In Indy, he repped 225 pounds on the bench 17 times, a figure that was low for a 260-pound-plus defensive end. Here, he upped the number to 19.

In Indy, his vertical was just 25 inches, a number that scared scouts who wondered about his explosiveness. Here, he was up 20 percent -- to a much more acceptable 30 inches.

And yet, maybe the best part of Sam's pro day workout had nothing to do with juxtaposing his performance against what he did at the combine.

After measuring out at 6-foot-2 and 263 pounds and competing in the bench, Sam lined up for that first 40 and stumbled a bit near the finish line. Then, he grabbed his hamstring, and the tweak cost him his second shot at the 40.

Most people in the building figured that was it for Sam on this day.

But after 30 minutes of walking it off, he returned to complete the vertical and all the position drills the NFL folks needed to see him perform.

"He fought through," said one veteran NFL coach, "and that's exactly what we needed to see."

Coming into Thursday, Sam was very much fighting just to be drafted. One NFC personnel executive termed his performance in Indy as "awful for an undersized pass rusher", and said he needed to show he's a "better and faster athlete" than he appeared to be there. A college scouting director added that it'd be vital that he show "good movement in the linebacker drills", in part because of his lack of ideal size.

And, to be sure, Sam's still fighting to be drafted now.

Thanks to Thursday, though, from here, it'll be a lot less of an uphill battle.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.

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