Alex Pearce has admitted that Derby County’s players are braced for ‘the toughest pre-season we’ve had’ under Gary Rowett.

Derby’s players will report back for pre-season training in just over a week’s time to kick off their preparations for the 2017/18 campaign.

Rowett took charge of the Rams in March and will oversee his first pre-season in the lead-up to the new season.

Pearce, 28, admits the players are expecting a gruelling period as they prepare for another campaign in the Sky Bet Championship.

The players’ fitness levels are being monitored over the summer and Pearce says everyone is determined to hit the ground running when they return.

He told RamsTV: “We’ve had our off-season programmes from the medical staff so we have to keep ourselves in good shape.

“When we come back we have heard, through the grapevine, that it’s going to be a tough one.

“It could be the toughest we’ve had so we need to be ready for that and we will be for sure.”

Pearce made 45 appearances in all competitions during 2016/17 after grasping the opportunity to shine with both hands.

He formed a solid defensive partnership with Richard Keogh in central defence, having been limited to just two appearances during 2015/16 after signing from Reading.

After Jason Shackell sustained a calf injury in early September, Pearce played in all but one of Derby’s league matches for the rest of the season and established himself in the side.

He hopes he can enjoy more game time next term – but knows he will have to prove his worth once again.

Rowett has also strengthened his central defensive options for the new season with the signing of 32-year-old Curtis Davies from Hull City.

Pearce said: “I was pleased to get into the team, after waiting for my chance, and go on to form a partnership with Rich.

“That was what I had in mind when I originally joined the club two years ago.

“It took a while but we got there in the end and hopefully it can continue. I know it’s a clean slate in pre-season so I need to show what I can do all over again.”