Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce’s long-awaited arrival is upon us.
The former Baltimore Ravens lineman signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Vikings and had intended to be the heir to Linval Joseph in the center of the defensive line. Those plans were derailed by the pandemic. Pierce opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding his asthma history.
Pierce’s absence was evident.
The Vikings allowed the sixth-most rushing yards per game in the league last year, punctuated by a 52-33 loss to the New Orleans Saints, where the defense surrendered 264 yards on the ground. Alvin Kamara tied a nearly century-old record by scoring six touchdowns to effectively bounce the Vikings from playoff contention on Christmas Day.
An entirely new starting defensive line will take the field in the Vikings’ season opener on Sunday. Pierce may be the most important piece, recently being named the player in the NFC North that could shift the balance of power in the division.
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The Glue of the Defensive Front
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora recently listed eight players who could shift the balance of power in their respective divisions. Pierce was recognized for the NFC North, which the Green Bay Packers have dominated for the past two seasons. The Packers are considered favorites to win in 2021.
However, Pierce’s presence could be what the Vikings need to buck the division champs from their thrown. From La Canfora:
The massive defensive tackle (340 pounds) opted out last season due to COVID-19, and realized he wasn’t close to being done playing this game. One of the jewels of Minnesota’s 2020 offseason can do an awful lot for a man of his size, and Mike Zimmer is just the kind of coach to know how to best deploy him. More than just a run-stuffer – though his mere presence alone will add heft and girth to a DL that sorely needed it a year ago – he can also penetrate from the inside and collapse the pocket. He should be as fresh as ever and fortified for the longer season after not taking a hit last season. He has no shortage of motivation and if the Vikings can close the gap on the Packers this season I suspect Pierce has plenty to do with it. Not the first guy you think of, but a potential glue guy for this defensive line and someone who could give Aaron Rodgers some fits, especially as Green Bay works through some injuries up front. His return, and Danielle Hunter getting back in form, could transform a defense that fell hard a year ago.
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Linval Joseph Says Pierce ‘Will Shock the League’
Earlier this offseason, Linval Joseph, who still trains in Minnesota despite playing for the Los Angeles Chargers, posted a photo of Pierce and him at Higher Power Training in Eden Prairie, Minn., with a caption giving his full support to Pierce.
“I want to give my blessing to @mpierce_97 for his upcoming season in the Minnesota Vikings. He is young and talented and will shock the league this year with his performance. Let’s all remember not to hate but instead trying to be great!”
Pierce responded, “Means The World. I’ll be back next week for more work,” using the goat emoji to refer to Joseph.
Learning from Joseph, Pierce hopes to unlock his pass-rushing potential that had laid dormant in Baltimore.
“I think my power is great and I have quickness but for me, it’s putting those pieces together,” Pierce said in April during his first visit to the Vikings’ training facilities. “I feel like I have the tools I just haven’t always been put in the best position, but for me, I need to know what to do when they put me in those positions. That’s a work in progress and that’s something I’ve always been honest about.”