Pierce opted out of the 2020 season last summer after his childhood and his current doctor both advised against playing and risking the exposure to COVID-19 with his history of respiratory issues.
Longtime defensive line coach and newly appointed assistant coach Andre Patterson’s first order of business on Wednesday was to give Pierce the full free-agent experience.
Pierce, now vaccinated, walked the halls of TCO Performance Center in Eagan for the first time after inking a $27 million, three-year contract with the Vikings a year ago and, more importantly, showed he has remained in peak condition with a workout after taking last year’s struggles on defense personally.
“I’ll be completely honest with you,” Pierce said in a Zoom call with local media. “There were, for sure, many times where I would say, ‘Dang, I could’ve been out there.’ When we made the decision, there wasn’t a ton of science behind everything. … As the weeks went on and the NFL got more adept with dealing with the COVID situation, I for sure regretted (opting out) to an extent. … From a personal standpoint, I do feel responsible about some of the stuff that happened last year.”
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Pierce Takes Responsibility for Last Year’s Struggles
Three new starting cornerbacks seemed to be the Vikings’ biggest concern on defense in the 2020 offseason, however, the secondary wasn’t the crux of Minnesota’s struggles when the season played out.
The Vikings defensive line produced the third-lowest pass-rush win rate (36%) in the NFL in 2020, leaving opposing quarterbacks unpressured and poised through their reads. Minnesota’s run defense was equally abysmal, allowing the fifth-most rushing yards per game.
Both phases Pierce hopes to remedy with his presence on the line in the first year of his deal, which was pushed back to begin in 2021 and runs through the 2023 season.
“I do feel responsible for some of the stuff that happened last year. It was a tough situation. Injuries everybody understands that but the opt out was something new to football,” Pierce said, referring to the early-season losses on defense in Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and himself. “We had a rough year last year but everybody seems upbeat and happy to be for me to be here. I’m ready to roll.”
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Pierce Hopes to Unlock Pass-Rushing Potential
After entering the NFL undrafted in 2016, Pierce has developed himself into of the league’s most solid run defenders.
Pierce admitted his pass-rushing ability has been dormant, in part to what his role was with the Ravens and his lack of opportunities to hone that part of his game.
“I think my power is great and I have quickness but for me, it’s putting those pieces together,” Pierce said. “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.”
Pierce, along with newly signed defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, reinforces the defensive line that is also expected to welcome back Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr who could add more weapons in the pass rush.
All the many reasons Pierce is confident this year’s team should exceed expectations after a troublesome 2020 season.
“Today was a big day for me. I’m looking forward to more so getting on the field but today was a great start they know I’m in shape they know I’ve been diligent and ultimately that all leads up to making a difference on Sunday,” Pierce said.
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