Pierce lives the dream; Ravens get the ben­e­fit

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS WEEK­END - Mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

“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.

AL­GE­RINA PERNA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

In 33 de­fen­sive snaps, rookie Michael Pierce has three tack­les and a sack.

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