When Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce showed up out of shape to mandatory minicamp Tuesday, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was disappointed.
“What I said to him — and I said it in front of the whole defense — ‘Life’s about choices. You just don’t make that choice,’ ” Martindale said Wednesday.
Pierce, who played at a listed 340 pounds in 2018, had visibly gained weight, and coach John Harbaugh dismissed him from Tuesday’s practice after he finished stretching for “his own health and safety.” In Pierce’s first three seasons with the Ravens, he’d never faced questions about his preseason conditioning.
Pierce, who’s set to become a free agent next offseason, was the Ravens’ top-graded defender in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Let’s not forget what a great football player that he is,” Martindale said.
Pierce wasn’t at practice Wednesday, but Martindale is confident Pierce is working to get in shape. After seeing some of the criticism Pierce received, Martindale urged restraint, saying, “I think we piled on enough yesterday.”
“He’s got a challenge from here until training camp,” Martindale added. “He’ll get back there. I can’t tell you when, but he’ll get back there.”
Safety Tony Jefferson said he talked to Pierce on Tuesday and believes Pierce is doing what he can to return.
“Weight is weight, if that’s what the predicament is,” Jefferson said. “But we love Mike. We’re glad to have him back.”
Bonds’ big day
Lamar Jackson has thrown three interceptions in two days at minicamp. A former Alliance of American Football cornerback who couldn’t earn an invite to an NFL training camp last year has two of them.
Terrell Bonds picked off two passes from the Ravens’ starting quarterback in a seven-on-seven red-zone drill Wednesday, prompting shouts of “TB” from the sideline and praise from Jefferson afterward.
“I'm coming out here each and every day learning from the vets, just trying to be a sponge, learn from them each and every day,” Bonds said after practice. “And whenever I get my opportunity, just try to go out there and make as many plays as I can.”
The 5-foot-9 Bonds’ NFL dreams were put on hold last year. Undrafted out of Tennessee State, which also produced Ravens safety-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr., Bonds said he didn’t hear from an NFL team after an appearance at the Chicago Bears’ rookie minicamp.
So he joined the Memphis Express of the fledgling AAF, posting 14 tackles and five passes defended in eight games. League play began in February and lasted less than two months.
“The highs was that I had the opportunity to play professionally,” he said. “The lows was that it just ended early.”
Bonds much prefers his current situation. He said he’ll go back home to Miami after minicamp to prepare for training camp. A pair of interceptions is a good way to get noticed. A strong preseason is a better way to make the team.
"We'll see in training camp when the pads come on,” Jefferson said. “Obviously, sometimes, some good people look good in shorts, and some people look great in pads. And that's where you find out who the real football players are. But he's off to a great start.”
The Ravens’ punt returner competition is wide open, special teams coach Chris Horton said.
That’s partially because of the nature of the game, Horton said. Competition means no spot is guaranteed.
“You've got to come out here. You compete, you work,” Horton said. “And whoever wins that job as a returner, you'll see them out there.”
The illness-related absence of cornerback Cyrus Jones (Gilman), whose 14.4-yard return average ranked second in the NFL in 2018, has opened the door for running back Tyler Ervin, wide receiver Willie Snead IV and cornerback Tavon Young, among others.
Horton said Young saw some time as a returner early in his Ravens career, though never in a game, so they’re giving him another opportunity.
“We’ve got a ton of guys,” Horton said. “We’re just trying to figure out who’s going to be that main guy for us this year.”
Jones, who could return for the start of training camp, returned a punt for a touchdown last season but has struggled at times with his ball security. That could be a decisive factor as Horton considers his candidates.
“The most important thing is the obvious one: catching a football,” Horton said.
» Offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Patrick Mekari were absent again Wednesday. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was mostly sidelined, but did participate in one drill with the wide receivers, working on his hands.
» Safety DeShon Elliott had another impressive interception, picking off a pass downfield from Robert Griffin III to wide receiver Sean Modster. Linebacker Otaro Alaka followed shortly thereafter with another interception against the Ravens’ backup quarterback. Safety Bennett Jackson came down with Lamar Jackson’s first interception of minicamp.
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» Kicker Justin Tucker bounced back from a pair of missed 48-yard field-goal attempts to convert kicks from 58 and 63 yards at the end of practice. Backup Kaare Vedvik again struggled with longer kicks.