Bernard Pierce draws praise from Ray Lewis, Ozzie Newsome

The emergence of rookie backup running back Bernard Pierce heading into the Super Bowl hasn't escaped the attention of Ravens veteran inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

Pierce's hard-nosed running style and production have triggered approval from the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, hearkening comparisons from Lewis to how running back Jamal Lewis once impacted the Ravens' Super Bowl championship squad during his rookie season.

"We had a young rookie running back who was pretty good to take us to the Super Bowl," Lewis recalled. "And we have another young rookie running back who is pretty good himself to take us to the Super Bowl."

Pierce has contributed 169 rushing yards in three playoff games, averaging 6.3 yards per carry despite a bone bruise in his right knee. He gained a game-high 103 yards during an AFC wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts and led the Ravens with 52 rushing yards on nine carries in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

"I wouldn't say I carried the team at all," Pierce said when informed of Lewis' comments. "Football is a team sport. It takes everybody to win. I helped out in some situations, I would say. Everybody brings a certain set of skills to the table in order to make themselves and other people better.

"It helped mix up a good amount of talent on the active roster and a good amount of talent on the practice squad. As a team, we help each other out."

The 6-foot, 218-pound third-round draft pick from Temple has complemented Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice all season as the replacement for Ricky Williams, who abruptly retired after last season.

With a tackle-busting style that also incorporates 4.49 speed in the 40-yard dash, Pierce rushed for 532 yards and one touchdown on 108 carries to rank second on the team in rushing behind Rice's 1,143 yards.

In the postseason, Rice and Pierce have operated as a strong tandem again with Rice rushing for 247 yards and two touchdowns on 64 carries for a 3.9 average per carry.

The Ravens believe that a two-back system is necessary given the physical nature of the league.

"We've seen in this league now, you need two backs," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "When we're back [at the NFL scouting combine], [running backs coach] Wilbert [Montgomery] always takes the opportunity to go down on the field when the running backs are working because he played the game. He came back and he said, 'I'm impressed with this guy, Pierce.'

"And then we put the tape on, the grades come in, and he brings a different dimension. He's a tackle-breaker, and he's explosive. He's a good match to what Ray [Rice] is, and he was there for us to pick in the third round. You know what? For him to sit there and be in the meetings with Wilbert and Ray and to be able to learn the importance of protection and all those other things, it's just very beneficial."

awilson@baltsun.com

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