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USATSI

Training camps are just about ready to fire up around the league, and the Minnesota Vikings are ready to start preparation for what they hope will be a special year in the super-competitive NFC North. They believe Michael Pierce could be key in helping them achieve that goal, but they received a bout of bad news this week regarding the veteran nose tackle. The 28-year-old reportedly suffered a calf injury while training ahead of camp, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, and it's doubtful he'll be available when the Vikings begin practice in late July. 

The injury isn't expected to impact his availability for Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals though, Rapoport added. 

Pierce is working to return to the field after opting out of the 2020 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the Vikings are hoping it'll be sooner than later after signing him to a three-year, $27 million deal last offseason. His absence last season was felt in a big way as the Vikings defense floundered to a very poor showing that acted as a ball and chain to what was a special year for Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and rookie sensation Justin Jefferson

Mike Zimmer is counting on Pierce to be a key piece of the rebuilt defensive front in Minnesota, but until he can suit up in camp and beyond, it'll be backup lineman Armon Watts taking reps along with rookie sixth-round pick Jaylen Twyman and undrafted free agent Jordon Scott -- the latter two working to survive roster cut-downs in late August.