Pierce lives the dream; Ravens get the benefit
“He’s come from really kind of an unknown,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “First of all, making the team, I don’t know that anybody thought early on in [organized team activities] or when we brought him in that he’d do that. And then he shows up enough in preseason and camp to make the team, and then after that, he just works hard out there. I’m really, really pleased with where he is.”
Pierce was the only undrafted freeagent rookie to make the Ravens’ 53-man roster. Most didn’t notice him until the fourth preseason game, when he stripped New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Since then, a lot of people have gotten to know Pierce. He is the 339-pound, wide-body No. 78 who replaces starter Brandon Williams. Actually, he is built like Williams and is playing well.
He has played only 33 of the team’s 114 defensive snaps, but has three tackles and a sack. He also has a quarterback hurry, and has collapsed the pocket several times. If you don’t believe his presence is being felt, ask Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown. Or ask the Ravens. Pierce still pinches himself every day because he made an NFLteam. It sounds corny, but he has great humility. He had confidence in himself, and so did his position coach at Samford, but most NFL scouts ignored him, even though he squatted more than 700 pounds.
“His lower body strength was always amazing,” said Victor Cabral, Samford’s defensive line coach. “He also has very strong hands and great anticipation, especially in the run game. He studied film hard and did all the things he needed to do to be an outstanding player.
“I think at the NFL level, for evaluation purposes, he came from a small school, didn’t have that particular height and weight, and had academic problems. But for those teams who did their homework, they knew what they were getting.”
Pierce had problems with homework. His low grades forced him out of Tulane during his sophomore year, and he transferred to Samford, a Football Championship Subdivision program in Alabama that seats 6,700 at its home games.
Here’s another chapter to Pierce’s success story: He graduated from Samford a semester early with a degree in public administration and will pursue a master’s degree after the season.
“I slipped up in the academics because I just got carried away with the football,” Pierce said. “Looking back, I was more focused on football than academics. I had to get my priorities straight. That was the biggest challenge I had to overcome, because it was embarrassing being academically ineligible, knowing what I was capable of intellectually. It was disappointing to my family.”
The family concept is a big piece of Pierce’s life. He often talks about his father, Michael Sr., and mother, Daphne. He treats his teammates the same way, particularly Williams. He has become his shadow.
“As soon as I got here, guys told me, ‘If you want to make this team, follow and emulate him. Do whatever he does,’ ” Pierce said.
He has. Both are maulers who can occupy two blockers. Williams has more bulk and strength, but Pierce might be quicker than any defensive lineman off the snap. Though that’s up for dispute. “I’m quicker, no contest,” Williams said.
The addition of Pierce has made the Ravens more versatile up front. He can come in to replace Williams on passing downs or add muscle in goal-line situations. If the Ravens can’t sign Williams, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, they might have found his replacement in Pierce.
But that’s down the road. Right now, Pierce is just enjoying his time on the roster. He had a nervous afternoon when the Ravens made their final roster cuts this month.
“I just wanted to know if I did enough, what my value here was,” Pierce said. “I never felt comfortable, and I won’t feel that way during the season. Every day, every game, you have to put it on the line or you won’t be here long.”
His work ethic won’t allow him to feel any other way.
In 33 defensive snaps, rookie Michael Pierce has three tackles and a sack.