EAGAN, Minn. — At long last, Michael Pierce was able to put in some legwork at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
The second week of April in the second year of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is marked by mostly empty hallways, but Tuesday they were fuller with the 341-pound defensive tackle touring the facility and venturing across the campus to the Minnesota Vikings Museum.
He enjoyed in-person connections with General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer and made sure to mention in a video call with Twin Cities media members that he also enjoyed meeting Zimmer's executive assistant Mary Redmond.
They were the kind of interactions that ideally would have happened a year ago when Pierce was Minnesota's prized signing during 2020 free agency.
View photos of DT Michael Pierce who toured TCO Performance Center and the Vikings Museum for the first time.
NFL offices, however, were closed at that time because of the pandemic. As the reopening plan took shape, players were allowed to opt out if they had COVID-19 concerns.
Pierce's history of upper respiratory problems led him to choose that route and not play football for the first time since the 28-year-old Alabama native was 4.
Now fully vaccinated, Pierce felt comfortable accepting the invitation to Minnesota this week.
"They wanted to show me the love that they've shown to everybody else that they brought in through free agency, even though I signed last year," Pierce said. "That was something they thought of, and I'm super appreciative of that. I've literally walked the whole campus, got to see the Minnesota Vikings] **[Museum**, everything, got to meet each and every person, Ms. Mary, the front-office lady, she's a super sweet lady by the way.
"I got the full free agent experience, so that was awesome, warmed my heart, obviously, and then today, I pushed for the d-line stuff," Pierce added.
The "d-line stuff" involved meeting with position coach and newly promoted Assistant Head Coach Andre Patterson and assistant defensive line coach Imarjaye Albury, as well as a workout.
"They wanted to evaluate and see where I am after a year off. You never want anybody to walk in on the first day of OTAs or whatever time we decide to report and you just don't have an idea," Pierce said. "Anxiety and all of that kind of stuff would kick in, I'm sure, from up top.
"Today was great. I've been working out diligently, and I was proud to show where I am. I want these guys and Coach Dre to mold me, and I showed them what I can do with the strength staff. Then, to have the film to be able to evaluate and just coach me until we can get back here and get everyone under one roof. I enjoyed it. For me, it was about proving I'm going to be the player and person they expect me to be. I'm grateful they brought me up here."
Even though Pierce was physically apart from the team in 2020, he stayed connected by watching film on his team-issued iPad, tuning in to games and having calls with Patterson and Albury.
"I think Coach Albury will tell you I called him after every game just to talk through stuff. … I stayed up to date as much as I could," Pierce said. "It built like a different level of trust that these people, you know, obviously, I chose to sit out, but they still value me as a person, as a player, to check on me and talk me through what was going on each and every day. That only made me work hard and stay diligent throughout this offseason even more so than I normally would. Either way it goes, that's a special bond and respect that I have for Coach Dre and Coach Albury. I'm just grateful that they did that."
The powerful lifter also put himself through 'Squatober' leg exercises last fall and then participated in a CrossFit program in January and February to take off "bad weight."
"I got to try ['Squatober'] for the first time; that was super-super fun for me," Pierce said. "Not great on your knees and on your back, but I had time to recover, so that was good. It's like 25 days of squat and deadlift — if you're not crazy about weightlifting, I would not suggest it."
Pierce said it was important to him to show up this week in prime shape. He made sure to apply the work ethic that helped him make it in the NFL with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Samford.
View photos of the Vikings 2021 coaching staff.
"To have the Vikings invest in me, that was monumental, man. Literally brought tears to my eyes," Pierce said. "So today was a big day for me. I wanted to make sure my weight was good. I moved as well as I possibly could. And when we got in the weight room, I showed them who I was and have always been. I think everybody will tell you I passed it with flying colors. I'm looking forward to getting on the field.
"Today was a great start," Pierce added. "They know I'm in shape and that I've been doing what I'm supposed to do. Ultimately, it all leads up to making a difference on Sundays. Step 1 is now, but we got a lot more days of hard work and diligence to go. But I think today went well. We'll just keep building from there."