New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Christian Sam possesses the position and skill set to make an immediate impact on the Patriots defense in 2018. But the fifth-round pick out of Arizona State also came to New England with question marks – and they weren’t about his 40 time or his three-cone drill.

One of the knocks on Sam entering the draft was that he “doesn’t love to practice” and wouldn’t be comfortable as the alpha dog in a locker room. The second part shouldn’t be an issue with the Patriots, considering he doesn’t need to lead the defense and maybe never will – especially if his new teammate Ja’Whaun Bentley does. The first thing, however, is an eyebrow-raiser.

Sam clearly feels that, for whatever reason, the talk about his lack of enthusiasm for practice was falsely reported about him. The claim is, frankly, a troubling one. That goes for any player looking to build a career in the typically grueling NFL. But Sam flatly denied it.

“Everyone has their own opinions,” Sam told reporters during his post-draft conference call in April. “They’re entitled to their own opinion. I feel like that was something that was put out there that wasn’t true. I’m a guy who when I practice I take pride in practicing because I know it’ll prepare me for the game and I know how big practice is to be able to prepare for the game and play at a very high level that week. So I feel like everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that’s something that got out there that I couldn’t control. The only thing I control now moving forward is that I’m the best practice player I can be.”

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 03: Linebacker Christian Sam of the Arizona State Sun Devils takes the field for the game against Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at Sun Devil Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils won 44-13. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

TEMPE, AZ – SEPTEMBER 03: Linebacker Christian Sam of the Arizona State Sun Devils takes the field for the game against Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at Sun Devil Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils won 44-13. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

It’s curious that an NFL scout or analyst put it out there that Sam doesn’t like to practice, which strongly implies that he’s not a fan of working in general. But his comeback from a season-ending ankle injury in 2016 is a sure sign that he does, in fact, work hard to get back on the field and get the most out of his abilities.

Sam didn’t do anything wildly different from his normal work routines to recover. He just did it to a higher degree.

“I stuck to my same resume,” said Sam. “Ate even healthier, but I stuck to the same thing I was doing – yoga, eating healthy, just working out and taking care of my body more, and I had extra time to do that and that helped me out in the long run. But I stuck to my script.”

Sam returned to play 12 of 13 games for the Sun Devils in 2017, recording 127 total tackles and two passes defensed. So there you go.

Based on his comments coming out of rookie minicamp earlier this month, Sam is doing whatever he can to learn about the Patriots as a team and organization and feed off the example being set by the veterans.

“Right now I’m just working hard trying to, like I said, catch up with what’s going on around the building, catch up with the vets because they have all the experience,” Sam said. “Like I said, I’m going to be a sponge. We all want to be a sponge because we’re coming in late and we’ve got to catch up. We’ve got a lot to catch up [on].”

Mar 3, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA: Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Christian Sam speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center. (Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Mar 3, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA: Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Christian Sam speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center. (Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Patriots aren’t for everybody, as we recently learned with Cassius Marsh. But are they for Sam? His NFL.com Draft Profile would suggest that they aren’t. But the kid’s still here as OTAs are in full force, so he’s obviously not a disaster when it comes to practice.

Once he’d gotten his first tastes of the culture in Foxboro and the team’s intense focus on football and only football, Sam had a simple takeaway from his first minicamp.

“Work hard,” Sam said. “I mean, I’ve always known that, but work hard and everything you do, go hard, be attentive and just – not follow – but there’s been a standard set here and just keep going with it.”

Pretty promising comments for a player who allegedly didn’t like to practice.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.