The 2012 Baltimore Ravens season ended with a Super Bowl championship set off financially by Joe Flacco receiving a lucrative $120.6 million contract which resulted in a loss of some solid players. From a veteran leadership perspective, it closed the chapter by way of retirement of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and longtime center Matt Birk. As training camp opens in less than a week, the Ravens have two players that look to expand upon the stellar performances of the second half of their season and venture into the playoffs – Bryant McKinnie and Bernard Pierce.
McKinnie, now the veteran NFL star on the team, came back full circle after being replaced at left tackle by Michael Oher and vying for his starting position during the playoffs. His conditioning improvement was obvious in his playoff appearances as left tackle in the Ravens’ offensive line. McKinnie started every game in the postseason helping the Ravens’ offense to average over 400 yards toward the Super Bowl victory by only allowing six sacks in four games.
Unlike last preseason, McKinnie has worked diligently on his conditioning at home in Miami in addition to the off-season training at the Ravens’ facility. Salary and bonuses could be an incentive since part of his restructured two-year potential $7 million deal in the offseason, after visiting with the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins, included a $200,000 workout bonus. However, the competitive drive of a 6’8″ former Pro Bowl blocker from the University of Miami will easily outlast that argument.
Bernard Pierce proved himself as a standout rookie running back with 108 carries, gaining 532 yards and averaging 4.9 yards a carry. His 6’0″ frame combined with a hard-nosed running style is what helped him to carry yardage to break away from 21 missed tackles. His speed and agility enabled him to quickly hit open holes as in his performance against the New York Giants in regular season with a 123-yard game and the Indianapolis Colts with a 103-yard game to help solidify the playoff win.
Pierce also has a huge team supporter in Ray Rice, who will look to reestablish himself as the NFL’s top dual threat running back after only 318 touches last season. Pierce gives Rice that extra breather necessary to give any opponent’s defense something to worry about with two healthy different style backs that will no doubt work their way to the end zone. Based on his strength and total body conditioning evidenced in the offseason, Pierce’s speed and long strides will propel even faster yardage pickup with the muscle to break away from even more tacklers at the line of scrimmage than last season.
Expectations run high for Flacco and Rice to outperform each season but McKinnie and Pierce have a 2012 season of demonstrated solid performances to follow. Age is not a factor for the determined at heart. The proof is the veteran McKinnie and the young Pierce who will both showcase their fresh legs, strength, and diligent conditioning in training camp for a strong offense set to continue.