Michael Pierce’s career has been a whirlwind since one of the biggest days of his entire life.
After becoming a key defensive piece for the Ravens, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Pierce cashed in and signed a lucrative deal with the Minnesota Vikings in 2020: Three years, $27 million.
Then, everything went south.
Pierce opted out of his first season with the Vikings due to COVID-19 concerns. The following season he debuted for Minnesota but was limited to just eight games due to an elbow injury. The Vikings cut him in 2022 and he made his way back to the Ravens. After just three games, the start of Pierce’s second tenure was cut short due to a season-ending torn bicep.
It’s been a challenging period for Pierce on and off the field. Beating the odds, working his way through ranks of the NFL as an undrafted player and expanding to a fixture in Baltimore’s fiery defense, only to finally get rewarded and end up back to square one as a free agent.
But with a new season on the horizon, Pierce has made changes. His routine is different after how the last two years have ended. He’s stayed at the team’s facility longer, working more with trainers and on his diet. He incorporated hot yoga into his regimen. Every Saturday — sometimes twice a week — Pierce takes yoga classes at The Mine, a health and wellness facility in Towson. At 30, Pierce noticed a few different things about his body and said he felt he needed to do “all the little things you can” to invest in it, such as stretching and becoming more flexible.
The results have been positive thus far, catching the attention of his head coach, John Harbaugh.
“I think he’s had a really great start to training camp,” Harbaugh said Monday after practice. “Michael Pierce has really expressed himself out here the way he does, with physicality. Today we put the pads on so he had a chance to do it a little more for real and he looks great doing it. I think he’s in really good shape and excited to play some football.”
When asked about the changes, Pierce said: “I feel good, I’m moving well, I’m affecting the quarterback, obviously playing the run well. I feel good in my pass rush and I’ve just been really drilling that stuff in with [assistant coach] Chuck [Smith] and all the guys this offseason. It’s been paying off pretty well and the pads will keep telling the story.”
Pierce has looked much like the player the Ravens originally had from 2016 through 2020. During organized team activities and minicamp, he’s looked stronger and faster, and coaches have raved about the the work he’s put in this summer. It’s hard not to notice him and his power when the defensive line is going through drills. The Ravens threw on pads at training camp for the first time Monday and Pierce’s impact was even more evident, clogging lanes for the running backs up the middle.
Ravens defensive line coach Anthony Weaver said that Pierce has been playing like a man with a chip on his shoulder after the injuries and time away.
“Mike’s been working all offseason,” Weaver said. “He’s been here the entire time. Behind all adversity is a blessing and a lesson, right? You get hurt, you’re disappointed, but all that time he’s just gotten work. His goal is to come out here and completely dominate. [To] win a Pro Bowl [spot], prove that he’s worth every dollar he’s been paid and he’s got the ability to do all that. Hopefully, God willing, he can be out there for all 17 [games], and if he is, he’s going to help this defense in an awful lot.”
Pierce said the mental toll of the injuries put him through an emotional cycle the last few years. He explained how difficult it was not traveling with the team and how much he wished he could’ve been able to talk to teammates such as Travis Jones during plays to explain the things he was seeing from home.
“You definitely have a swing of emotions,” Pierce said, “especially when you go through surgery and you don’t get to travel. You’re kind of just in rehab sitting in there for hours and hours a day.”
The Ravens know how important a healthy Pierce is for their defense, particularly as the unit embraces its younger players on the edge with David Ojabo and Odafe Oweh, at safety with Kyle Hamilton, plus Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington along the defensive line. Pierce was playing well for the Ravens before his injury last season, grading as an excellent 86.9 from Pro Football Focus and recording six tackles and a forced fumble. If the new tweaks to his body can keep Pierce healthy and playing at that level again, it would be huge for the unit.
Here’s an overview of how Tuesday will go with a look at what we’re paying attention to:
The sixth day of full-squad training camp practice starts at 1:50 p.m. at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. After practice, Harbaugh will speak with reporters, followed by secondary coach Chris Hewitt, Nelson Agholor and Kyle Hamilton.
What I’m looking for
More from the offensive line
On the first day of pads, it was the defensive line that made it clear they’ve been waiting months for this type of contact.
Pass rusher Odafe Oweh had a sack on Jackson in 11-on-11 and celebrated accordingly with a dance. Veteran defensive end Brent Urban knocked down a pass from backup Tyler Huntley, Madubuike had two sacks for the day. Pierce and other interior lineman held the run game in check. It was a really good, physical day overall from the defense.
These practices have gone back and forth between the offensive and defensive units. Can the offensive line quiet them down tomorrow?
While Lamar Jackson and the Ravens quarterback were accurate for the most part Monday, most of their completions came on short passes to the flat, underneath and across the middle. They rarely took any deep shots to their starting targets on the day. Jackson attempted a deep pass to rookie Zay Flowers but it was tightly covered with Marlon Humphrey lurking. He took another to Odell Beckham Jr. down the left sideline but the pass was dropped as he hit the ground.
Will he go for them again on Tuesday with better luck?
More of the physicality we saw Monday
The physicality from having the pads on was evident to start the new week and it made practice more enjoyable.
Patrick Queen had some of the biggest hits of the day, with a few of them coming as soon as the receiver caught the pass. We were able to see more from the offensive and defensive lines, who are hard to grade during the offseason program and during camp when they’re not hitting. Running backs were able to lower their shoulders.
Monday was a good first day of contact, and as the week progresses, we should see even more of it.
Follow along for updates
The Banner will have multiple reporters at each day of training camp practice. Follow along for updates from them.