OWINGS MILLS — Since reporting to minicamp too out of shape to practice, Michael Pierce has altered his diet and training regimen enough to return to the field.
Head coach John Harbaugh removed the Baltimore Ravens’ fourth-year defensive tackle from the team’s first mandatory minicamp on June 11. Pierce was back on the field Thursday for Baltimore’s first day of training camp.
“Like I told everybody – told my teammates, ‘I really apologize for letting them down in minicamp.’ That’s never been indicative of my character to come in out of shape,” Pierce said Thursday. “I told them it won’t happen again.”
Pierce skipped voluntary workouts and organized team activities for the first time in his career this offseason. He played last season listed at 340 pounds but was visibly heavier at minicamp, leading to the embarrassing removal from practice.
“I wasn’t diligent in my dieting, I wasn’t diligent in my conditioning. I was focusing more on lifting,” he said. “That’s a mistake I learned from, it really won’t happen again. That’s going to be my mission, to prove to guys that I’m here to work.”
Pierce said he hired a chef who prepared the correct meals for him. For the first time, he became conscious of “caloric intake, sodium, protein, all this stuff – stuff that I should’ve learned through my first three years.” He also made sure to run every day in addition to lifting weights.
Pierce said he has lost more than 20 pounds since minicamp, but the real challenge would be to pass the Ravens’ conditioning test.
“I’m very impressed with the progress Michael Pierce has made,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “He’s lost a lot of weight. It’s all been good weight loss. He’s maintained his muscle mass, he’s lost the bad weight – the fat weight. He still has a ways to go, but he passed the conditioning test. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
Pierce was removed from the non-football injury list once he passed.
The Ravens have a notoriously difficult conditioning test. Players are required to pass before they are permitted to practice. Veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace, who played for five NFL teams, failed the first time when he played for Baltimore and recently tweeted that it was the toughest in the league.
“You can’t fake that,” Pierce said of passing the test. “I want to lose a couple more pounds before the season starts, and that’ll come by continuing to eat well and do a little bit of extra cardio after practice.”
Linebacker Shane Ray and offensive linemen Orlando Brown Jr. and Jermaine Eluemunor failed their tests and were unable to practice Thursday.
The upcoming season is critical for Pierce, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Since going undrafted three years ago, he has grown into one of the league’s better run stuffers and seems in line for a sizable payday.
Teammates and coaches alike defended Pierce during minicamp, expressing confidence that he would take care of what he needed to in time for training camp.
“They were really just supportive,” Pierce said. “This is a brotherhood. They knew that I was going to come back in shape to camp. They were really just behind me. I hate that I let them down. Like I said, it really won’t happen again.”
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon was asked about Pierce Thursday.
“We know who Michael Pierce is. For the last three years, we’ve seen what Michael Pierce has done,” Judon said. “He is who he is. He’s going to be there game in and game out. You go check the film and you’re going to see Michael Piece.”
Pierce faced one major obstacle during his fight to drop weight. He had booked a trip to Italy months ago. Somehow, he even managed to lose some more weight overseas.
“I traveled with the scale. That was the thing. I ate a lot of seafood – light stuff,” he said. “First and foremost, I paid for the trip prior. I booked the trip in December, not knowing that I would have these issues. But I had done a bulk of the work before, so when the team was out in minicamp, I was in there with [head strength & conditioning coach] Steve [Saunders] twice a day. I had lost a considerable amount of weight before I went. If it was close, I definitely wouldn’t have went.”
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig