EAGAN, Minn. — Michael Pierce has been watching the Vikings from afar, and he couldn't be more excited to be joining a Minnesota team with a strong history at defensive tackle.
Pierce, whom the Vikings signed as a free agent earlier this week, spoke to Twin Cities media members Friday via conference call and expressed his eagerness to work with Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson.
"Just the way he develops guys, his track record speaks for itself," Pierce said of Patterson. "He has the leading [defensive tackle] sack-leader in NFL history under his belt [in John Randle], so I was pretty much sold."
Pierce added that he told Patterson and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer he learns "not only by doing but by watching" and has kept an eye on former Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph.
Pierce will look to fill the shoes of Joseph, who recently signed with the Chargers in free agency.
"I was a fan of Linval from right when I came into the league, and I learned a lot from him," said the 27-year-old. "Learning from a guy who taught him, learning from a guy who has coached guys in my position and helped them grow … it's something I'm all about and eager to get started whenever it's possible."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect across the U.S. and around the world, Pierce is among the masses who currently are unable to travel or work out in public gyms.
He was asked by reporters about his plan to stay healthy and in-shape during these uncertain times and assured that he's staying focused while down in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama.
"Obviously to stay in shape, as my nutritionist tells me, it's 80 percent of what you put in your body," Pierce explained. "I have a meal-prep company that makes all of my meals and makes sure I'm putting the right stuff in my body.
"I was working out at EXOS down in Pensacola, [Florida], and they sent me a little homework plan, so I've got some running and body-weight stuff I can do until I get back in the gym," he added. "I'd say I have a pretty solid plan. It's only been a few days since they shut down my gym, but I think it's working well."
Working out, particularly in the weight room, is something Pierce is known to have an affinity for.
A video of Pierce squatting 725 pounds at Samford University four years ago has well made the rounds, and he isn't shy about his love for weightlifting. He even pointed out that he was impressed by the Vikings hosting Icelandic professional strongman and Game of Thrones star Thor Björnsson for a game at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2017.
Asked to illustrate how strong he is, Pierce said he believes he's "at least in the top 10" of the NFL's strongest players.
"I have a sheer love for weightlifting – I'd be doing that if I wasn't playing football. I'd probably be trying to try out for the Olympics or join the U.S.A. Olympic weightlifting team," Pierce said. "I take pride in it; I'll let the videos speak for themselves and my play on the field speak for itself. But yeah, that's been a hobby of mine ever since I started. I'd say I'm pretty, you know, up there."
He did acknowledge, however, that his training regimen has changed since an incident last June when the Ravens did not allow Pierce to practice at the start of minicamp due to weight concerns.
"I got really, really deep into powerlifting like I had been doing in the past, mismanaged my cardiovascular program very, very bad, and that's due to me just doing my own thing and not being under a trainer's wing," he admitted. "I wasn't eating as well as I could, and I was more worried about lifting weights than running as much as I should have been. I went through that [last] spring, and I got myself in shape [last] summer and passed the conditioning test, and I was ready to go.
"I've totally overhauled everything that I've done, starting with having a nutritionist and working with the right companies to put the right things in my body – not only during the season but year-round, now," added Pierce, who weighed in at 345 pounds for the Ravens.
He also anticipates – and is willing – to adjust as needed per the Vikings thoughts on playing weight.
"When I get to meet everyone in person [in Minnesota], I'm sure they have a nutritionist on staff, and they'll check out my body fat, see how that's doing and make up their own plan," Pierce said. "They seem to like that, for a big guy, I have good feet and can redirect pretty well and tend to be around the ball whenever I'm on the field. That's something for us to sit down and talk about and make sure everybody is on the same page. … I will be ready to roll as soon as day one starts."
Now having a better handle on his physical conditioning and balance between strength and cardio training, Pierce is thrilled to be joining the Vikings and brings to the table a shining reputation as a run-stopper.
He isn't satisfied with success only against the run, though.
"Coming into Baltimore, that was what was expected of our nose guard. That's kind of how I got my start, and that lends to me and my body build," Pierce said. "After talking to Coach Patterson, just him expressing how he thinks I can continue to grow my game and continue to add to my pass-rush ability, I'm excited, man.
"I love stopping the run, and that is my calling card and something I enjoy doing each and every day, but at this point in my career it's time to blossom and make some strides," he continued. "[Patterson] explained how he helped Linval and that he was in a similar position when he signed with the team."
It's been quite the journey for Pierce, who started his career as an undrafted rookie out of a small collegiate program.
He said it "feels amazing" to now be signing as a free agent to play a significant role in Minnesota's defense.
"I don't think it's really hit me yet," Pierce said. "I haven't had much time to get outside of the house, or breathe, or reflect at the moment. It definitely feels amazing, just to be valued … by an organization and have somebody respect my game that much to give me the keys to such a prestigious organization that has such a deep history of d-line play and having guys like Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
"It's a blessing, man," he added. "I'm sure by the time I see you guys it will have sunk in some more."