“Gold Stars All Around” for Vikings Rookie LB from Kevin O’Connell

Typically, undrafted free agents have a daunting road in front of them as they try to climb up an NFL team’s depth chart and make the final 53-man roster.

Vikings rookie LB Ivan Pace is no typical UDFA, though.

Almost as soon as Pace got to Eagan, the former Cincinnati Bearcat has done nothing but impress throughout OTAs, minicamp, and training camp. The undrafted rookie is making an incredible run up the depth chart, getting playing time with the ones and twos throughout camp.

Vikings Rookie LB
Sep 24, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Pace started the Vikings first preseason game, and he was the man wearing the green helmet, indicating that he was essentially the “quarterback” for Minnesota’s defense receiving playcalls. He played wonderfully in that role, recording six tackles and mixing things up in the trenches.

Following Wednesday’s joint practice with the Tennessee Titans, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell praised Pace for his play to this point in camp.

“He’s really in every facet of the game, how we’re playing defense, the communication, pressure, no pressure, the way he has the athleticism to run sideline to sideline, maybe cancel out some mistakes. If we lose a gap here or there, he’s shown to be able to get off blocks for a guy that, when I watched his tape in college, he was almost unblockable and that’s translating in a lot of ways.”

Vikings Receive Even More Praise for 2023 UDFA Class
Nov 5, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) reacts after sacking Navy Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline (not pictured) in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

In 2022, Pace’s only season with Cincinnati, he terrorized opposing offenses in every facet of the game. He recorded 137 tackles, including 21.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. His tackles for loss total led the entire AAC last season.

Despite his shorter stature at 5’10”, Pace has made a living disrupting plays in the backfield. It would be easy for opposing offenses to assume that they’d be able to dominate that matchup when he steps lines up on the line, but the linebacker quickly proves them very wrong.

“It could be a great look for a play, getting a lineman up to him at the second level, and he somehow avoids that block and makes a play while maintaining doing his job, so he doesn’t undress any other facet of the defensive call,” O’Connell said. “He did great with the green dot the other day in Seattle. So, really, gold stars all around for Ivan.”

Mar 2, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr. (LB23) participates in drills during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pace is making an immediate impact on the Vikings defense this year, and the Vikings head coach envisions a massive role for him throughout the 2023 season.

“As I’ve challenged him to do, you’re not just trying to compete to make our team,” O’Connell sumised. “Let’s see where you can go and help us possibly win football games from the jump.”

It truly has been an exciting start to Pace’s career, and the linebacker has checked every single challenge placed in front of him to this point. Hopefully, he continues on this trajectory and helps give the Vikings defense an edge this upcoming season.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.

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