If Ravens Are To Run, Third-Rounder Pierce Is An Option
EX-TEMPLE STAR TORE UP MARYLAND, NAVY
By Joe Platania
Since the NFL has become a pass-first league, teams have had to adjust their rosters -- as well as their philosophies -- to keep up with the trend.
The Ravens have been no different.
As of right now, Baltimore has 13 wide receivers among the 89 players on its roster, as well as one of the best double-pronged tight end attacks in the league and a dynamic dual-threat starter at running back, not to mention a quarterback voted by his peers as the 74th-best player in the entire league, according to the annual NFL Network active-players countdown.
But while other teams try to dazzle opponents with long-passing schemes to seemingly put points on the boards and fans in the seats, the Ravens go downfield as an addendum to a running game that can be opened up more if defenses are loosened up enough.
Ray Rice's ongoing contract negotiations and Ricky Williams' retirement have given the Ravens reason to boost their options at running back this offseason.
The team is giving 2011 seventh-round pick Anthony Allen the first chance to win the backup job, but the Ravens are also getting a good look at practice-squadder Damien Berry, even after drafting ex-Temple star Bernard Pierce during the third round of this year's draft (84th overall pick).
The Ravens dealt a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons to move up seven spots in Round Three and ensure that they would get Pierce, who has proven to be a bane to local fans for his devastating showings against Navy and Maryland while a member of the Owls.
"It was the same situation as last year," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We stopped and looked at the board, and we started to see that a lot of our players that we really wanted were being picked. So, we had the additional pick in the fifth round, and we felt like the value of going up to get Bernard was worth it.
"He is a one-cut runner with some size. He runs very well behind his pads, and that's the style of running game that we're using right now."
Pierce shares that cut-and-go trait with Rice, Allen and Berry, and he used it to good effect against both the Terps and Midshipmen during his days with a Temple program that had been so bad a decade ago, it was kicked out of the Big East Conference, which it is rejoining next year.
"I think he is a guy that really showed up in most games," player personnel director Eric DeCosta said. "He has been a real productive player of the last couple of years; the tape is very consistent. What I like about him is he is really good down in the red zone. Also, on the goal line, he is a real physical guy. He can lower his pads and does a really nice job down there, impressive.
"We didn't know a lot about him until he came out and declared. I think our scouts did a good job. [Running backs coach] Wilbert Montgomery did a great job scouting him, evaluating him so we could get him right on the board."
The Football Performance Awards named Pierce (6-foot, 218 pounds) the National Running Back of the Week after he ran for 267 yards on 29 carries against the Naval Academy, part of a season when he received honorable mention All-America honors.
That led to a spot on the Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list during Pierce's second season and a fourth-team All-America spot after his final campaign, one during which he scored a school-record 21 touchdowns, five of them during a nationally televised blowout against Maryland at Byrd Stadium.
Pierce had 149 total yards on 32 carries that day, and his outstanding season led to him being one of just two early entry picks among the Ravens' eight-man draft class (sixth-rounder Tommy Streeter was the other), though a record 65 early entry players were eligible to be drafted this year.
"I felt as though I did a lot for Temple," Pierce said. "In such little time being there, I put my heart, body and soul all on the line for the team. I love my teammates, but at the end of the day, I have a child on the way and it's time for me to grow up.
"So, I needed to make sure that I was able to step up and provide for my family."
Last weekend at the Ravens' rookie minicamp, Pierce showed an ability to provide a new dimension to the team's running game.
He showed he could decisively run toward the holes and follow blocks, especially on sweep runs around the edges. His one-cut ability was readily apparent to the rookie defenders that tried to tackle him.
"(Pierce is) deceptive," DeCosta said. "He is a bigger back. What we like about him is his burst. There is a change of speed when he gets to the hole, and he is able to clear the defender. We see change of speed, which is what most big-time backs have.”
If the Ravens don't change their plans to have a more balanced offense than most other teams, their running game -- no matter who spearheads it -- could still be big time.
Posted May 17, 2012