The backfield duo of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for 1,675 yards last season as the Baltimore Ravens offense began to click late in the season, into the playoffs and straight to a Super Bowl Championship.
However, its the “backup” in this rotation that’s drawing a lot of buzz from seemingly everyone heading into the 2013 season. Pierce, who’s packed on 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season, now weighs 228 pounds and is expected to see his share of carries in an offense that is a different one from what we last saw in the Super Dome back in February.
After averaging nearly five yards a carry last season, Pierce comes to camp in excellent shape, feeling good about his place in the offense and from all reports didn’t lose his speed or power by bulking up and slimming down the body fat at the same time.
Pierce burst onto the scene last season as the perfect compliment to Rice. A pure blend of speed, strength and the ability to shed tacklers in short yardage situations to gain extra yards and first downs. He’s a downhill runner that when gets moving, is nearly impossible to stop with arm tackles.
His vision is outstanding for a guy heading into his second season in the NFL. Couple that with a lower body that resembles an oak tree, and its easy to see why the Ravens loved snagging Pierce in the third-round from Temple in last year’s draft.
With a full off-season under Jim Caldwell’s watchful eye as offensive coordinator, the Ravens could again have one of the more high powered offenses in all of football. In the seven games after the change at coordinator, Pierce rushed for 444 yards in regular season and postseason combined. Not surprisingly, he was in the mix with five other running backs in the NFL in rushing for rookies last season, and four of them were the primary ball carriers for their respective teams.
Being a primary figure in the running attack late season didn’t phase Pierce either, rushing for 123 yards in a crucial victory over the New York Giants and then 103 more yards in a playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts.
Fullback Vonta Leach is no longer in a Ravens uniform, so the Ravens will get creative with the running attack. Last season, Pierce was used in short yardage situations mainly, but the Ravens also ran him on sweeps (a lot of the time to the right) where he could use his athletic build and explosiveness to get by defenders.
But head coach John Harbaugh has a lot of trust in his second-year back and he was used on third downs quite often late in the season, with the occasional second down duty on the field. This season, there’s a strong possibility that Pierce will see even more time in second down situations and also first down as well to keep Ray Rice fresh throughout the season.
Another reason a potential breakout season could happen for Pierce in 2013? The continuity of the offensive line hasn’t changed. That’s good news with a line that is not only big and strong but athletic as well. They move defenders off the line well and with offensive line coach Andy Moeller and run game coordinator Juan Castillo in a coaching position he thrives in, the offensive line could be even stronger than it was the last six games of the season in 2012.
This season the Ravens go with a hybrid fullback/tight end in Kyle Juszczyk who will be moved all over the field. At 6’1, 248 pounds, he has the size to be a blocker and allow both Rice and Pierce on the field at the same time.
And the best thing is, Pierce isn’t looking to take the starting spot away from Ray Rice, at least not yet. He has the right attitude, isn’t a selfish player and knows that the harder he works, he’ll see the field and the football quite often. That certainly can translate into a potent weapon who has experience under his belt and can give the Ravens a 1-2 punch that is as good as any in the NFL.
If all goes according to plan, this duo could certainly rush for over 1,700 yards together. For Pierce, finally settling in and knowing his place in this offense will do wonders for him. It would not surprise me to see him rush for over 800 yards and be on the receiving end of 200-300 yards as another dimension to the Ravens balanced running attack.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.