Kevin O’Connell Gives Rookie the Gold Star Treatment

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Training camp has been going smoothly for some Vikings players. Others are struggling. The worst camp affected James Lynch, but it wasn’t his fault. He tore his ACL and is out for the season, a big blow for his playing career. On the flip side, some athletes are standing out and earning roster spots and major roles because of their practice performances.

Kevin O’Connell Gives Rookie the Gold Star Treatment

One of those is undrafted rookie Ivan Pace, who hasn’t looked like an undrafted player. New rave reviews from a teammate or a coach are a daily theme in Eagan.

gold star treatment
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On Wednesday, the first day of joint practices with the Tennessee Titans, head coach Kevin O’Connell was the latest person praising the rookie, and he made it clear that Pace is not competing for a roster spot but for a role to play right away:

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.

It could be a great look for a play, getting a lineman up to him on the second level and he somehow avoids that block and makes the play while maintaining doing his job so he doesn’t undress any other facet of the defensive call. He did great with the green dot the other day in Seattle. So, really, he’s-gold stars all the way around for Ivan. As I’ve challenged him to do, you’re not just trying to compete to make our team, let’s see where you can go and help us possibly win football games from the jump.

Kevin O’Connell

We’re in August, and Ivan Pace has one preseason game under his belt. It’s still very early in the process, but he is incredibly exciting, and Vikings fans absolutely love their latest undrafted player in their rich history of UDFAs. Franchise legends Mick Tingelhoff and John Randle are in the Hall of Fame after going undrafted. Adam Thielen just left but was a star for the purple team for years.

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings fans know that undrafted guys can turn into something special, and of course, everyone loves the underdog story of an undersized player who falls all the way out of the draft and has to fight for his chance.

Pace sent out a famous Instagram post, claiming explicitly that the league made a mistake, and so far, it looks like he is not bluffing by any means. He has been serious from the get-go.

He also made some nationwide headlines after his preseason contest against the Seahawks, in which he led the team in tackles and put his run-stopping ability on display, blowing up a run by running straight through an offensive guard and putting him on the ground, of course, that guard weighed almost 100 lbs more than him. O’Connell said after the game that Pace “keeps flashing” and started a lengthy compliment.

He also called the defense on the field by wearing the green dot, a hard feat for a rookie, but he did it nevertheless, and O’Connell and defensive coordinator Brian Flores praised him multiple times for it.

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Brian Asamoah and Jordan Hicks have always been considered the starters in Flores’ defense, and they should still be expected to be the frontrunners, but if Pace continues to shine the way he has been doing, it will be awfully hard to keep him off the field. Asamoah missing some time with an injury recently is also a chance for Pace.

At the very least, a rotational role should be expected for the defender coming out of Cincinnati. His next time to shine will come in Saturday’s preseason contest against the Titans. What started as a potential Cinderella story has turned into Pace as a promising contributor on the defense.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt