Ravens rookie nose tackle Michael Pierce has been getting calls from his college coaches at Samford.
"Where was this last year?!" they ask.
The only undrafted rookie to make the Ravens' 53-man roster this year, Pierce has gotten off to a hot start and, surprisingly, carved a niche for himself as a pass-rushing nose tackle, of all things.
The 6-foot-0, 339-pound prospect recorded his first career sack in his second NFL game Sunday in Cleveland. He also notched another quarterback hurry.
Through two games, Pierce is the Ravens' second-highest graded defender, only trailing safety Eric Weddle, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Pierce has a plus-3.5 grade and Weddle is at plus-4.4. Fellow defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan is third at plus-2.9.
"Woooow," Pierce said. "I was just expecting to get a few reps here and there, just to get adjusted with my first two games. … I think I kind of surprised everybody with my pass-rush ability."
That may include surprising himself. Pierce logged just 3.5 sacks in 47 career college games split between Division I-AA Samford and Tulane.
On Sunday, Pierce ripped through Browns left guard Joel Bitonio, a multiple award winner as a rookie a year ago, to take down quarterback Josh McCown 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
He made the 53-man roster, in part, by bulldozing his way into the backfield in the fourth and final preseason game to sack quarterback Luke McCown and recover a fumble in the end zone.
Pierce said he's learned "a ton" under Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen and from watching Jernigan, defensive end Lawrence Guy and the man starting ahead of him, run-stuffing Brandon Williams. Williams is a good role model, as he also made the leap from the small-school ranks to the NFL and has since become a dominant player.
"In college, at Division I-AA, I was just stronger than everybody. I could run through people and plan on doing that," Pierce said. "Here, everybody's strong and adequate, so it's just using my hands more, learning how to set moves up and being versatile. It's not always going to power."
Pierce has logged 33 reps out of the Ravens' 114 total defensive snaps (nearly 30 percent). With Williams – a potential Pro Bowler – ahead on the depth chart, there isn't room for Pierce to have a huge role. But he can be a good pass rusher up the middle to help Baltimore still get pressure without outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, and can also help Williams stay fresh.
"I played a good bit against Buffalo and I felt like I got adjusted to the game a lot faster than I initially thought. Last week, I just wanted to turn it loose," Pierce said.
"I've kind of carved out a little role for myself. I like it."