Michael Pierce chuckles at his new job. Very few nose tackles are used as pass rushing specialists, but the undrafted rookie out of Samford has found his niche.
"I never dreamed of this," Pierce said while laughing and shaking his head. "I thought I might get five plays in because I got very few reps in practice. I had very few sacks in college, but I am enjoying what I do now."
Pierce is one of those success stories you hear about but very seldom happens in the NFL. Draft picks in the first three rounds have a high percentage of making the team and those selected afterward are highly unlikely.
Undrafted players such as Pierce are usually nothing more than training camp meat until the regular season starts. Pierce beat the odds.
"He's come from really kind of an unknown," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "First of all, making the team, I don't know that anybody thought early on in OTAs or when we brought him in that he'd do that. And then he shows up enough in preseason and camp to make the team, and then after that, he just works hard out there. I can't say enough good things about him. I'm really, really pleased with where he is."
Pierce was the only undrafted free agent rookie to make the Ravens' 53-man roster. Most didn't notice him until the fourth preseason game, when he stripped New Orleans quarterback Luke McCown and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Since then, a lot of people know Pierce. He is the 339-pound wide body, No. 78, who replaces starter Brandon Williams. Actually, he is built like Williams and is playing well.
He has played only 33 of the team's 114 defensive snaps, but has three tackles and a sack. He also has a quarterback hurry, and collapsed the pocket several other times. If you don't believe his presence is being felt, ask Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown.
Or ask the Ravens.
Pierce still pinches himself every day because he made an NFL team. It sounds corny, but he has great humility. He had confidence in himself and so did his position coach at Samford, but most NFL scouts ignored him, even though he squatted more than 700 pounds.
"His lower body strength was always amazing," said Victor Cabral, Samford's defensive line coach. "He also has very strong hands and great anticipation, especially in the run game. He studied film hard and did all the things he needed to do to be an outstanding player.
"I think at the NFL level, for evaluation purposes, he came from a small school, didn't have that particular height and weight and had academic problems. But for those teams who did their homework, they knew what they were getting."
Pierce had problems with homework. His low grades forced him out of Tulane during his sophomore year and he later transferred to Samford, a Division I-AA program in Alabama that seats 6,700 people at its home games.
Here's another chapter to Pierce's success story: He graduated from Samford a semester early with a degree in public administration and will pursue a master's degree after the season.
"I slipped up in the academics because I just got carried away with the football," Pierce said. "Looking back, I was more focused on football than academics. I had to get my priorities straight. That was the biggest challenge I had to overcome because it was embarrassing being academically ineligible, knowing what I was capable of intellectually. It was disappointing to my family."
The family concept is a big piece of Piece's life. He often talks about his father, Michael Sr., and mother Daphne. He treats his teammates the same way, particularly Williams. He has become his shadow.
"As soon as I got here, guys told me if you want to make this team, follow and emulate him. Do whatever he does," Pierce said.
He has. Both are maulers who can occupy two blockers. Williams has more bulk and strength, but Pierce might be quicker than any defensive lineman off the snap of the ball.
Though that's up for dispute.
"I'm quicker, no contest," Williams said.
The addition of Pierce has made the Ravens more versatile up front. He can come in to replace Williams on passing downs or add more muscle in goal-line situations. If the Ravens can't sign Williams, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, they might have found his replacement in Pierce.
But that's down the road. Right now, Pierce is just enjoying his time on the roster. He had a nervous afternoon when the Ravens made their final roster cuts this month.
"I just wanted to know if I did enough, what my value here was?" Pierce said. "I never felt comfortable and I won't feel that way during the season. Every day, every game, you have to put it on the line or you won't be here long. I am happy to be doing this, but I won't get comfortable.
The work ethic won't allow him to feel any other way.
"He made his mistakes and turned it around," Cabral said. "He is a good player, a good person. I am not surprised at his success. He has earned it and he will handle it like a man."