Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce signed his restricted free-agent tender May 1 to remain in Baltimore for another year.
Pierce, in his fourth season as an undrafted player out of FCS Samford University in Alabama, is now shaping into the next leader on a defensive line that has a long lineage of talented players. One of those players that Pierce has looked to as an example is Kelly Gregg, the former Ravens nose tackle who played in Baltimore from 2000-2010.
"A guy who I love -- who I love, love, love -- and would love to meet is Kelly Gregg," Pierce said on
Glenn Clark Radio
May 6. "He's kind of half the reason I wear 97. I watched him from rookie year, and I'm still watching him today. That dude is awesome. I followed his story and I read a lot about him. I'm a big fan of his."
Pierce, 26, said he's also learned from the likes of former defensive tackles Sam Adams (2000-2001) and Haloti Ngata (2006-2014) because the Ravens' defensive scheme hasn't changed much throughout the years.
"That's one of the first things I picked up from [Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams] and those guys. You can learn a lot especially since we've had a good tradition of defensive lineman and our scheme hasn't really changed too drastically," Pierce said. "You can learn a lot from a Sam Adams because we play the same position and we play the same kind of techniques and you can see how he made his moves."
With the departure of several key defensive pieces to free agency this off season, including Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle and Za'Darius Smith, Pierce will now be looked to as a leader for an inexperienced defense that is still growing into its own. Pierce said he's had countless conversations with linebacker Matthew Judon about taking up the mantle of leadership left by those departed players.
"To think that I'm going into year four -- a big year for myself and a big year for this team -- having guys look up to me, especially knowing that I've come from [an undrafted] free-agent standpoint, I couldn't have dreamed it," Pierce said. "It's been a blessing and I'm ready to get it started."
Some of the players Pierce sees taking a step forward include linebacker Patrick "Peanut" Onwuasor and young pass rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.
"Me coming in with Peanut, I've seen the strides he's made. I don't think anybody could have guessed the year he would have had last year," Pierce said of Onwuasor, who finished his third NFL season in 2018 with 59 tackles, a career-high 5.5 sacks and grabbed his first career interception.
As for Bowser, who played in 15 games and finished with 11 tackles and 0.5 sacks, Pierce said he "has one of the best work ethics that I have seen on our defense. The kid stays late, he's in the weight room extra, he's always on the field doing all kinds of defensive line stuff just to prepare himself for what he has to do."
And Williams is "physical freak" who can be a key factor as long as he stays healthy, Pierce said. Williams has played just 15 games across his first two professional seasons.
But in the end, the entire unit will be required to perform in defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's scheme.
"Defense is a team game ... but as a team as long as we can be accountable to each other and be exactly where we're supposed to be and execute the plays that Wink calls, those plays will come," Pierce said. "They may not always come from the same person but they'll definitely come and we'll definitely get stops."
The tender Pierce signed is only for the 2019 season, but the defensive tackle said there's nothing he would want more than to stay in Baltimore long term.
"Of course, I would love to stay with the Ravens, man. It's the only home I know," he said. "We have a long lineage of great defensive linemen, and it would be a blessing for me to fall into that place and hold that mantle and continue that. I would definitely love to do that. We will play it out, and we'll see how it goes."
For more from Pierce, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox