Michael Pierce is a big man who’s determined not to become too big a man as he and 327 million of his fellow Americans wait out a coronavirus pandemic that has no timetable for returning any of us to normalcy.
“I have a pretty solid plan,” the Vikings’ new nose tackle said Friday. “It’s only been a few days since they shut down my gym. But I think the plan is working well and will serve me well until it’s time to go.”
Pierce, 27, passed his physical before signing a three-year, $27 million deal. But he won’t physically join his new team until league restrictions related to the pandemic are lifted.
“I’m under [345 pounds],” said the 6-foot Pierce, referring to last year’s playing weight. “I’ll be ready to roll as soon as Day One starts.”
It was a different story last summer. Pierce reported to Ravens camp overweight, out of shape and unable to practice.
“I was deep, deep into power lifting,” he said. “I mismanaged my cardiovascular program very, very badly.”
Pierce calls himself a big fan of the World’s Strongest Man competition. He says he’d be on the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team if he weren’t playing football. And if that’s not enough testosterone for you, he also said he’s “at least in the top 10 strongest guys in the NFL.”
Google the video of his 750-pound squat for supporting evidence.
Pierce also wants to be smart enough to learn from being told he was too out of shape to practice last summer.
“I totally overhauled everything I’ve done since then,” he said. “Starting with having a nutritionist and working with the right company to put the right things in my body not only during the season but year-round now.”
Pierce is waiting out the pandemic in his hometown of Mobile, Ala. The trainer at his gym in Pensacola, Fla., sent him a home workout program to follow until the gym reopens.
“And I have a meal prep company that is making all of my meals and making sure I’m putting the right things in my body,” Pierce said.
Pierce was 350 pounds when he was turning heads at Samford, a little FCS school in Birmingham, Ala. The Ravens signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016 even though they already were deep along the defensive line.
“I wasn’t very, very, very confident in Baltimore with the number of guys they had and the amount of talent they had,” Pierce said. “I would play two plays in practice in OTAs [as a rookie]. … I just kind of had to grind my way through it.”
After playing in 16 games as a rookie, Pierce became the starting nose tackle as Brandon Williams shifted to three-technique. Pierce became a respected run-stopper, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior linemen in 2018 before dropping to 48th last year.
After Tennessee ran the top-seeded Ravens out of the playoffs last season, Baltimore decided to upgrade its defensive line. The Ravens traded a fifth-round draft pick to Jacksonville for Calais Campbell, signed Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers and let Pierce walk at the end of his one-year contract.
Pierce said he wasn’t surprised or upset. He said he knew that adding the more versatile Campbell and Brockers meant the Ravens likely would choose to move Williams back to his more natural position at nose tackle.
“I knew either way, I was going to be OK,” he said. “It was time for me to go and grow and play a lot more and just develop as a player. It was just timing.”
One of Pierce’s friends is Imarjaye Albury, the Vikings’ new assistant defensive line coach. He helped recruit Pierce when it became obvious that the Vikings were moving on from Linval Joseph, who went to two Pro Bowls in six seasons as a cornerstone player in Mike Zimmer’s defense.
Pierce said “everything just worked out perfectly” after he had conversations with the team and did some research on Andre Patterson, the Vikings’ co-defensive coordinator and widely respected defensive line coach.
“The Vikings have a tremendous history at the defensive tackle position,” Pierce said. “And obviously with Linval leaving, I think I can pick up where he left off and continue to grow my game as well.”