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Ravens’ Michael Pierce near top condition after overweight offseason

Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce said he is close to being 100% and regrets not attending offseason minicamps, which led to him gaining 30 to 40 pounds above his playing weight.

Pierce, who can become a free agent after this season, also said he had a discussion with his agent about whether he should attend or miss minicamps. Some players don’t participate in the camps as leverage in potential contract negotiations.

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“There was a discussion but he left it in my hands,” said Pierce, who was listed at 340 pounds last season. “It was a poor decision on my part not to start my diet earlier and get my tail in here and get to the [organized team activities]. I feel like my wheels are turning really well at this point. What do we have — 35 days until the opener against Miami? Somewhere around there, so the countdown is on and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be ready for sure.”

Pierce’s weight loss has been noticeable and he said he is at about 85% in terms of playing condition. He has hired a chef and spent numerous hours working with Ravens strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders and director of sports nutrition Sarah Snyder.

The Ravens need Pierce, 26, to play well this season. He was the team’s top defensive lineman by the end of last season when he finished with 32 tackles but also became a threat as a pass rusher. Pierce is expected to split playing time at nose guard with starter Brandon Williams in one of the sport’s most demanding positions.

In training camp practices, Pierce has looked good, especially reacting quickly on the snap. Combined with Williams, the Ravens might have the best tandem of run stoppers in the NFL.

“Michael Pierce is having a great camp,” Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen said. “Michael came back a little heavier than we wanted him, but he has really worked hard to get to where he is today, right now. He’s about close to where we need him, but he’s still not there. But he’s really practicing hard.

“With him and Brandon in there, those are two of the stoutest and best nose tackles in the NFL. We’re going to keep improving there. You will see them playing some together in certain packages, and rotating as nose tackles.”

There were skeptics about Pierce’s excuse for gaining weight. He is deep into weightlifting and even has a tattoo of the world’s strongest man at the top of his stomach. Pierce can squat 750 pounds and bench press 550. He might be the strongest player in the NFL.

When players lift this type of weight, they absorb huge amounts of carbohydrates. The big get bigger. The huge swell even more, as if they’ve been inflated with helium.

“I had to invest in myself again,” Pierce said. “I didn’t do the best job when I didn’t come to the OTAs. I spent way too much time lifting and not prioritizing my run and diet. You never want to spend as much time away from your team and the guys like I did. There are some guys who can do that like Marshal Yanda — disciplined enough to stay away and able to take care of their bodies.”

If he plays well this season, Pierce will command a lucrative long-term deal as a starter somewhere in the NFL. When his playing days are over, don’t be surprised if he competes in the World’s Strongest Man competition.

“I will look into it. It depends on my age and how my body feels,” Pierce said. “It is a tough sport to begin with because of the injuries suffered. Right now, it’s just a hobby of mine. My focus is on getting this remaining weight off and get in good shape. I can’t worry about anything else. The contract situation will play itself out just like it did for C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith.”

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