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Bernard Pierce Ready To Start In Place Of Ray Rice


It's not a celebratory time for Bernard Pierce, knowing that Ray Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the Ravens' regular season.

But Pierce knows the responsibility of carrying the Ravens' running attack against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers to open the season will fall largely to him. And Pierce has been waiting for his time to be a workhorse.

"I'll be ready," Pierce said at the end of minicamp, when it was widely figured that Rice would receive a suspension but unknown for how long.

"Any day and time, I can definitely be that guy. I'm going to have to be, or somebody else will."

The Ravens will still run the ball without Rice. That's what new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense is based around. Run the ball to open up the passing game.

Pierce has been playing behind Rice for the past two seasons, and is coming off a difficult 2013 campaign. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry, which ranked 47th in the NFL among qualified runners.

It was a dramatic drop from the 4.9 yards per carry Pierce averaged as a rookie, when the third-round pick out of Temple showed explosion and a punishing physicality.

Pierce attributed the downturn to multiple factors. The Ravens' blocking woes and general run scheme problems affected everyone associated to the offense.

Now Kubiak's system mirrors in many ways what Pierce ran in college at Temple, when as a senior he finished second nationally in scoring (13.5 points per game) and rushing touchdowns (27) and sixth in rushing yards (123.4 yards per game).

"It's pretty much the same thing," Pierce said. "It's so much more simple [than last year]."

Pierce wasn't physically himself either last year. He suffered a knee injury during a preseason game in Tampa Bay that he worked through for the early part of the season. Then he suffered a rotator cuff shoulder injury, which he waited until after the season to have surgery on.

He also felt he was a little overweight. Pierce added 10 pounds during last offseason in the hope of being able to better handle the NFL punishment and more carries, but it didn't pay off.

Now Pierce is putting in the work to get his body back in tip-top form.

He got up to 248 pounds after his shoulder surgery, but has lost 25 pounds since. He says he's back to his rookie weight.

"I'm well-conditioned. I can run all day," Pierce said.

Now the question is whether his shoulder will be ready. Pierce was held out of all 11-on-11 activity throughout organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. He participated in individual drills. The Ravens didn't want to risk him falling and hurting the shoulder.

Pierce was cleared to practice without restrictions for training camp. The first true test will be when the Ravens put on pads, which is scheduled for Saturday, but Head Coach John Harbaugh is pleased with what he's seen from Pierce so far.

"I'm very confident in Bernard," Harbaugh said Thursday after receiving news of Rice's suspension.

"I've always liked Bernard. He's a heck of a player. He's worked very hard, he's 217 pounds, [and] he's in the best shape of his life. He looked good out here the last couple of days; he looked really good [Thursday]."

The Ravens have a couple other options besides Pierce.

They signed veteran Justin Forsett, who knows Kubiak's offense well from his days in Houston, and has impressed so far in practices. Forsett has shown quickness, good hands and is a strong blocker.

The Ravens also drafted rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round. The 6-foot-0, 226 pounder is a big-bodied, one-cut back who fits into Kubiak's scheme well.

"We have a lot of depth at running back," Harbaugh said. "We'll just see how it plays out with the competition in there. I like our guys, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they do."

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