Through the first six years of his career, Baltimore Ravens veteran defensive tackle Michael Pierce went from an undrafted gem out of Samford to an elite run stuffer. However, he recorded just 3.5 sacks in four seasons with the team from 2016 to 2019 before signing with the Minnesota Vikings in the following offseason.
Now that he’s back after signing a three-year deal on March 22, 2022, Pierce intends to be on the field on more than just early downs to slow down opposing teams’ rushing attacks.
Flashes of Being More Than Just a Roadblock in the Run Game
After taking the 2020 season off due to COVID-19 concerns, Pierce showed that he can contribute as an interior pass rusher as well as stop the run at a high level. He nearly matched his previous combined career sack total with three in eight games last season and is determined to prove that it wasn’t an outlier but rather a glimpse of his growth and potential as an every-down defender.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Pierce said in an August 2 press conference. “I think I’ve been rushing a lot better. I’ve been around the quarterback a lot this camp so far, and I’ve just been working on that part of my game, as well as stopping the run. At that time when I first was here, we had Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy, and they slid Za’Darius [Smith] inside, and obviously Brandon [Williams] in front of me. So, I was just needed to be a run-stopper.”
He acknowledged that the NFL is shifting towards a predominantly passing league and away from coveting space eating run stoppers like himself but believes he has made strides in improving his game overall.
“I’m the last of a dying breed I like to say,” Pierce said. “But, I think I’m getting better at the pass rush. I did well last year, and I just have to keep working on that part of my game.”
Insight & Observations From His Coaches
Stopping the run is still the first commandment when it comes to playing defense in Baltimore and Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line Anthony Weaver said that while it will still be prioritized, so too will being able to consistently generate pressure up the middle.
“We know we have to stop the run first and foremost, regardless of whether this is a passing league or not,” Weaver said in the August 2 press conference. “But once we do that, we’re going to try to harass quarterbacks however we can. We can help them schematically by making sure we put them in the proper places to get the right one-on-ones, and then they have to go win. And with the guys on this roster, I expect us to do that.”
In addition to Pierce’s sheer size at 6-foot and 340 pounds, Weaver is impressed on a daily basis by the incredible strength and power Pierce possesses and put on display during a strong start to training camp.
“Michael Pierce is a mountain of a man,” Weaver said during the press conference. “When he puts his hands on you, you can’t help but feel them. Even when I’m doing individual drills, I feel like I’m fighting a bear.”
With a lack of healthy and quality depth on the edge of their front seven at outside linebacker, being able to collapse the pocket from the interior will be paramount for the Ravens in 2022. The ability of Pierce, fellow veterans Calais Campbell and Brent Urban as well as youngsters Justin Madubuike and Travis Jones to flush opposing quarterbacks out of the pocket will elevate the play and production of the team’s healthy edge defenders.
“When you think of him, you think it’s just run defense, but the effect that he has on the middle of the pocket, and making that quarterback throw out of a well, is going to help our edges, too,” Weaver said. “So, happy he’s here, thrilled to have him. Love him to death.”
Head coach John Harbaugh knows that Pierce is out to prove that he can consistently stay healthy, in shape and highly productive in all facets of the game.
“He looks really good out there; he’s practicing well; he’s very fit,” Harbaugh said during the August 2 training camp. “But I still think he’s shaping himself and rounding himself into football shape. And in the big picture of his career, I know he’s not satisfied with where he’s at or how he’s played the last couple years. He’s been good, but not, probably, to his expectations yet. So, I believe he has a statement to make.”
Mindset Heading Into the Season
Pierce believes he is poised for his best season to date as long as he can meet his goals.
“It’s time for me just to have a complete season, healthy and with more well-rounded games,” Pierce said. “So, I’m looking forward to this like never before.”