Through the first half of the Ravens game with Pittsburgh on Sunday, it was hard to tell which running back signed the long-term, multimillion dollar contract and which was the rookie trying to make his way in the NFL.
At halftime, Ray Rice had seven carries for 34 yards, and rookie Bernard Pierce had six carries for 24 yards.
Rice finished with 12 carries -- none in the fourth quarter -- and his workload is once again, understandably, being scrutinized in the wake of a Ravens loss.
But Pierce is happy for whatever carries come his way. The Ravens' third-round draft pick out of Temple is a tough, north-south runner who has established himself as a solid alternative to Rice. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, he's bigger than Rice, and the Ravens at times have turned to Pierce on third- or fourth-and-short.
"We want Bernard to be a complement to Ray – a very good complement,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They have different running styles. We think that helps us.”
Pierce is also helping to keep Rice fresh longer in games and, in theory, through the tough slog of December and January. It’s hard to say, but if had Rice carried 15 or 20 times in the first half against the Steelers, maybe he wouldn’t have had the juice to stop on a dime, cut back to his left and race 31 yards for a touchdown, as he did to give the Ravens a 20-13 lead in the third quarter.
“When I’m out there, even if it’s not carries, even if it’s pass plays, it keeps both of us fresh for the third, fourth quarter,” Pierce said.
Rice finished the Steelers game with 12 carries for 78 yards, while Pierce had eight carries for 34 yards.
“I felt I did pretty good. … I just try to contribute and do my job,“ Pierce said.
Through 12 games, Pierce has 59 carries for 247 yards (4.2 avg.) and one touchdown. That puts him on pace for about 78 carries this season, which would be less than the 108 carries Ricky Williams got last season as Rice's primary backup.
Pierce started slowly in training camp, bothered by a hamstring injury, and then had to beat out Anthony Allen, Damien Berry and Bobby Rainey for the No. 2 running back job. Since accomplishing that, it's been a fairly smooth transition for Pierce.
"I'm caught up," he said. "I'm on top of the playbook. I'm on top of a lot of things. I know how to study film, and all around I'm learning how to do my job a lot better."
Pierce said he doesn't see himself as a veteran, but doesn't see himself as a rookie any more, either.
" If there's anything in between, I'm right there. I still have a lot to learn, and I can still do more for the team."