EAGAN, Minn. — The ramp-up for Michael Pierce may have been accompanied by an epiphany.
The 340-pound nose tackle who is gradually progressing through training camp has shown predictable strength, distinguishable to the least-trained eyes.
Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson has seen a little more in his first year of working with Pierce.
"He's big, he's strong, he's more athletic than you give him credit for," Patterson said Thursday. "You see it in 1-on-1 pass rush. You can see he has some quick edge-to-edge to him, and you usually don't see that in a big, wide-bodied person. The first time he did it in 1-on-1 pass rush, I grabbed him and said, 'Hey man, don't ever let anybody tell you that you can't rush the passer.' "
View photos of DT Michael Pierce who toured TCO Performance Center and the Vikings Museum for the first time.
Patterson didn't recall the day the rep occurred. Camp days can run together, after all, but he knew what he saw and what it could mean to a revamped and replenished defensive line.
"The first time he went 1-on-1 on the first rep, he just took the guy back and walked him back onto the quarterback's feet," Patterson said. "He went right by him, and I was surprised."
The type of quickness that Pierce showed was more along the lines of 3-techniques that play beside him. It's very unique for anyone of his size, but Patterson wants to see more.
"My job is to get him to bring that out of his game more often," Patterson said. "You saw yesterday in practice, he had a time in a team period where he hit that same move, and stood right in front of the quarterback and would've had a sack.
"In his career previously, I never saw that on tape," Patterson added. "So I was pleasantly surprised he has that in his game. So my job is to make sure he brings that out and he uses it in different times in the game, because he has the ability to make an explosive play. When you're that big, that strong and that physical, the offensive linemen are sitting to brace for his power. Now, when he can change it up and give some quick speed, that really opens things up in his game."
After opting out of 2020 because of preexisting conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Pierce quickly got vaccinated and headed to Minnesota to finally tour Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
The Alabama native suffered a setback while training before camp, however, and was rehabbing a calf injury, but vowed that it wasn't going to set him back for long.
Danielle Hunter said Pierce's strength is "just berserk, brut."
The edge rusher is looking forward to his own return after missing all of 2020 with a neck injury. Hunter also is excited about what Minnesota added to the interior with Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson.
"Dalvin is the same thing," Hunter said. "It surprised me to see when both of them are going in on 1-on-1s, just destroying everything. It makes me smile."
Quote of the Day
"It's always nice seeing "Two Gloves," seeing Teddy [Bridgewater]. What I really learned from Teddy, I got injured [in 2017], and he was injured, too. We were in the training room, growing together. It was growing pains that I think we both needed, for us to keep growing as men. It was just those valuable lessons. When you see Teddy on the field, you see him smiling and laughing now, because he knows ball can be taken away so fast, just by the blink of an eye. I think that's one of the key lessons we learned, and I carry the same joy every time I come on the field. I'm out on the field, I've got another opportunity to come out here and play football, and I'm going to take advantage of it. I think that was the most valuable thing I learned from Teddy. He always had that smile through the process of getting back."
— Vikings RB Dalvin Cook on Bridgewater’s return to Minnesota as a Broncos QB
2 More Points
Here are two other takeaways from Thursday's media session:
1. Hunter and Cook status?
Hunter was not in pads for Wednesday's session with the Broncos, but he told media members he's well on his way.
"I've definitely been doing what I need to do out there. Everything has been coming back to me," Hunter said before Thursday's session in which he also did not participate. "Getting into the positions that I need to be in and getting my body into the correct shape that it needs to be in. So still have to get in game shape and play a full game just like everybody else. That's something that's important."
Asked if he'll be playing in the preseason opener Saturday, Hunter just said, "That's up to the coaches."
Cook also was asked if knows if he'll play on Saturday and said he's ready whenever.
"It's Year 5, so I put myself in game reps every day. Every day I go through a game rep, so that's naturally going to come to me," Cook said. "Being available for [the regular season on] Sept. 12 is what's important, so whatever decision, whatever Coach Zim' decides, put us out there on the field, and we're going to be ready to play."
2. Anticipation for reward
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak will get to wear the headset and call the plays in a game for the first time.
The former Broncos assistant will get to do so against the franchise he previously worked for before joining the Vikings as quarterbacks coach in 2019. Kubiak helped Kirk Cousins and the offense rally from a 20-0 halftime deficit for a win against Denver that season.
Asked what he's most looking forward to, Kubiak said, "just seeing these young guys get opportunities."
"They've been practicing their tails off since the spring, put in a lot of hard work, and Saturday is their reward," Kubiak said. "So I look forward to seeing them execute."
The Vikings have a bevy of inexperienced players at wide receiver that are likely to be asked to play a lot.
"I think what stands out to me initially is that we've got some young receivers that are going to have some opportunities, but that's across the board," Kubiak said. "Every one of our positions."
The Vikings and Broncos will open their preseason at 3 p.m. (CT) Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota will be home for the second week, as well, and host Indianapolis at 7 p.m. (CT) on Aug. 21. Click here for tickets.