Ravens running back Bernard Pierce made a concerted effort to increase his size, strength and, particularly, his speed following an encouraging rookie season.

The primary backup to Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice has accomplished those goals, according to coach John Harbaugh.

"Bernard Pierce has gotten bigger and faster," Harbaugh said. "He's done a great job with his offseason conditioning program. He looks good, and I'd say the first two days of practice, he's a better player now than he was last year even at the end of the season."

Concentrating on his speed has been the primary emphasis for Pierce this offseason while preparing for his second NFL season after gaining 532 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie.

Although Pierce has bulked up 10 pounds since last season to 228 pounds, the native of Ardmore, Pa., has maintained a lean build. Pierce has always preferred running through defenders rather than around them, but is working on battling that natural tendency to plow straight ahead.

That doesn't mean that Pierce lacks acceleration, though. The 2012 third-round draft pick from Temple ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. And Pierce's 100-meter time of 10.6 seconds was the best in Pennsylvania when he was a senior at Glen Mills.

Pierce provides a pounding complementary presence that contrasts with the smaller Rice's style as one of the top all-purpose backs in the game. However, a bulldozing approach isn't the only facet of Pierce's game.

During a 33-14 December victory over the New York Giants, Pierce gained a career-high 123 yards on 14 carries where he sprinted for a career-long 78-yard run before being tackled from behind by cornerback Jayron Hosley. And Pierce bolted away from the Indianapolis Colts on a 43-yard run during a playoff win where he led the Ravens with 103 yards.

"All positive from what I've seen on tape thus far," said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. "He has a nice blend of explosiveness, balance and vision. It's rare to find guys with all three of those traits. He has home run potential, but he's also capable of lowering his pads and powering through arm tackles in short yardage situations.

"He looks to have the complete skill set to be an NFL starting runner but we need to wait and see if he can handle a consistent workload. His decisive, downhill running style reminds me of Matt Forte."

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awilson@baltsun.com