EAGAN, Minn. – It's not often that "nimble" is used to describe a 340-pound defensive tackle, but Michael Pierce isn't your typical defensive tackle.
Fellow Vikings DT Sheldon Richardson spoke to Twin Cities media members Thursday about his early impressions of Pierce after returning to Minnesota as a free agent addition this spring.
"What impresses me the most? Actually, how nimble he is as a big guy. Believe it or not, I didn't expect him to move like that in pass rush," Richardson said. "But he actually can get off the ball and get after the quarterback too."
Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns, will play in a game, albeit a preseason contest, Saturday night for the first time in 1 year, 7 months and 11 days.
The Vikings will host the Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium for a 7 p.m. (CT) kickoff.
Asked earlier this week if he would potentially play in Minnesota's second of three exhibition games, Pierce took any mystery out of it.
"Super excited. And it's not 'potentially' – I'm playing in this game," Pierce told reporters. "I'm just counting down the days and making sure I tighten everything up for Saturday.
"I've already been told. I wouldn't say anything that [a coach] hadn't already told me," Pierce later added. "I'm playing in this game, and I'm excited. For how long? That's up to [Head Coach Mike Zimmer], but we're going to give it a go and hope for the best."
Regardless of how many snaps he plays against Indianapolis, Pierce will have a chance to show off that agility Richardson lauded. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz is currently sidelined with an injury, which puts Jacob Eason next in line. Sam Ehlinger and Brett Hundley also are on the Colts roster.
And don't let Pierce's 3.5 sacks through four seasons fool you.
Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson last week pointed out Pierce's under-the-radar ability to rush the passer.
"He's big, he's strong, he's more athletic than you give him credit for," Patterson said.
Pierce pointed out that Minnesota's defensive scheme may enable him to show that athleticism more so than his role in Baltimore.
"[The Ravens] defense is driven by outside linebackers," Pierce said. "I played with Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, a whole bunch of guys that come off the edge – and they want their nose guards to get great A-gap push.
"[When I signed here, Patterson] told me he believed in my abilities and that I could do a little bit more than that," Pierce continued. "I just wanted to come in and show him that he was right for what he saw on film. And it's just about me growing as a player and getting better and helping the team, not only in the run game but against the pass, as well."
A self-proclaimed pupil of the game, Pierce has closely studied defensive tackles around the league that include Damon Harrison, Casey Hampton and former Viking Linval Joseph, who totaled 15 sacks for Minnesota from 2014-19.
Zimmer said Pierce is a "run player" primarily but agreed that he shouldn't be counted out from defending the pass.
"He has really good lateral quickness and first-step quickness," Zimmer said. "I think for him, we have to give him some opportunity to use those things. Either moving him [from nose tackle] or saying, 'Hey, go pass-rush now,' because he does have a lot of quickness in him.
"There's a lot of times he's getting singled up, so if we can do that and push the pocket, it'll help the odds," Zimmer added.
And helping Pierce get that extra push will be Dalvin Tomlinson, whom the Vikings added through free agency this spring as the team's starting 3-technique.
Tomlinson called Pierce "one of the strongest people" he's ever seen.
"And his quickness, you can't find that. That's genetics," Tomlinson said.
The 27-year-old emphasized the importance of working together with Pierce to create extra anxiety for opposing quarterbacks.
"We can both set each other up with a lot of power rushes and sprinkle in some finesse rushes, also, in there – and run some interior games and stuff like that," Tomlinson explained. "Danielle [Hunter] and the other outside guys are gonna take a lot of pressure off of us on the inside, too, so that'll make life easier for us."
Pierce and Tomlinson have been adjusting to their new team and new roles, along with rotating Richardson in, throughout training camp. Tomlinson brought with him experience in 4-3 and 3-4 fronts that have been used by the Giants in recent seasons. He said he has "a lot more space to work with" in the Vikings system.
And while he and Pierce haven't yet played together in a regular-season NFL game, Tomlinson is confident in the way they've learned to play together.
"If I mess up a technique or something, it affects him in a big way. I make his job a lot harder, and he has to become my 'eraser' – or vice versa," Tomlinson said. "If he messes up, I become his eraser across the whole front of the defensive line. So just to be successful I the pass game, we all depend on each other."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 12, 2021.
Pierce and Tomlinson effectively beef up a defensive line that struggled in 2020.
According to Pierce, he and Tomlinson playing next to each other provides "a lot of scheme versatility" for the defense.
"We're going to show a lot of different things that we haven't done here in the past. Remains to be seen in which game, but I think we'll surprise some people," Pierce said. "[Dalvin's] a big guy, but he's athletic. He's gotten more sacks than I have, so I'm just learning from him, watching him do 1-on-1 [drills] and that kind of stuff. I think we'll have a really, really good, beneficial teammate-ship, and we'll make a lot of plays."
The pair of interior linemen also have bonded off the field, hitting it off over shared connections and, of course, a mutual affinity for the game.
"He went to high school with some of my Alabama teammates, so we just always talked about stuff like that," Tomlinson said. "We both love football, so it's pretty simple, right?"
Richardson started at the 3-technique position for Minnesota in 2018, but he's embraced the reserve/rotational role during his second stint in Vikings purple. It's tough to complain about joining a group led by Pierce and Tomlinson, and Richardson is looking forward to contributing inside however he can.
He also doesn't view himself as a backup but rather as reinforcement.
"We're all trying to do the same thing," Richardson said. "You don't want to drop off from your 1s to your 2s, especially technique-wise.
"When they call my number, I'll play football," he added. "It's just that simple. It's that time of season for me."
As Pierce looks ahead to tomorrow's game, he admits he'll likely experience some nerves – but he has full confidence the butterflies will settle quickly.
"For me, it'll be more fun than anything," Pierce said. "I'll probably be a little bit more amped throughout the day, since it's a night game, than I normally would. I'm just looking to have fun, execute, make sure I'm being exactly who they brought me here to be on Saturday, and that's where my focus is."