The Baltimore Ravens are as close to 100% as possible as all 53 players returned to practice Tuesday, including Bernard Pierce. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported Tuesday that Pierce has passed baseline testing under the NFL’s concussion protocols, which means that he is able to practice at full speed and play in Sunday’s regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unlike previous years, Pierce will be the unquestioned starter and feature back for at least the first two games this season while normal starter Ray Rice serves his two game suspension. Pierce is an ideal fit for Gary Kubiak’s one cut zone read scheme and could “run” away with the starting job if he performs well in Rice’s absence.
Pierce’s concussion was labeled as minor by head coach John Harbaugh, and he was always expected to be ready for the season’s opening game. But concussions can often be unpredictable, with players missing multiple weeks after suffering their effects. The league implemented new rules surrounding player eligibility in light of accounts from former players of permanent damage resulting from concussions.
Pierce had mixed results against the Bengals in last year’s two meetings with a combined 13 carries for 59 yards (4.5 yards per carry average). As a clear cut feature back in an offense that is rededicated to the run, Pierce is likely to receive upwards of 20 carries or more in this first meeting of the division rivals for the season.
Last season, the two teams split their series, with the Ravens taking game one 17-10 and the Bengals winning game two 34-17. In the loss, the Ravens had a meager 14 rushing attempts as the team abandoned the run completely. Joe Flacco wound up with 50 pass attempts as a result. With a major change in offensive philosophy for 2014, expect Pierce to get plenty of chances this weekend.