Bernard Pierce has drawn plenty of praise during his first two years in the NFL. He's shown tremendous potential developing behind one of the game's best in Ray Rice, and has been a valuable complementary of the Ravens' running game.
But now Rice is dealing with a hip injury, and Pierce could have to shoulder the load in the backfield this week against the Houston Texans.
Is he ready?
"I'm going to have to be," Pierce said after last week's victory against the Cleveland Browns.
Rice's status is up in the air after he left Sunday's game with a hip flexor strain. The injury is not considered long term, but he may not practice this week and the decision to play against Houston could come down to game time.
If Rice is not able to go, then the Ravens stressed that Pierce can pick up the slack.
"We have all the confidence in the world in him," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Just watch him play; he's a heck of a running back and we're lucky to have those two guys on our team."
Pierce, a third round pick out of Temple, has similar numbers to Rice through the first two weeks of the season. Pierce has 28 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown, and Rice has 25 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. Rice also has 11 receptions for 44 yards.
Pierce is a powerful back who showed last week against Cleveland that he can wear down a defense. He carried the ball 13 times in the fourth quarter, as the Ravens ate up the clock to hold onto the victory.
"We've had confidence in Bernard since, really, the day he got here and started practicing, because he showed what he's all about," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He continues to get better."
While Pierce has flashed potential, he's never had to be the workhorse running back. The most carries he's had in a game came in last year's regular-season finale against Cincinnati, where he carried 22 times for 89 yards.
He could end up getting even more this week against Houston, especially if the Ravens stick to establishing the run like they did against Cleveland.
"Obviously we've got confidence in him," Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. "He's a good player and I think he's got a bright future. We'll see who's back there."
Houston Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak also praised Pierce, calling him "a hell of a player."
"We really, really liked him coming out, and he has done some explosive things for them," Kubiak said.
Rice is known as arguably the Ravens' most dangerous offensive weapon. He's been one of the NFL's most productive players during his career, and has also been a driving force of the offense since he took over as the starting back in 2009.
But if Rice has to miss this game, the Texans expect the Ravens offense to look pretty much the same.
"We would not expect it to change anything that they do," Kubiak said.
Now it's* *up to Pierce to prove he can take another step as a running back, and show that he's up to the task of being the No. 1 back, even if it's only for a week.
"He's becoming a complete back," Harbaugh said. "We're just very fortunate to have him on our team."