Vikings Rookie Will Have a Massive Role Going Forward

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Another injury has hit the Minnesota Vikings, something they had to deal with all year. Jordan Hicks will be out for at least four games on IR after undergoing a procedure on his leg. The franchise has already overcome the absence of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. Justin Jefferson hasn’t played since Week 5, and defender Marcus Davenport has been barely available.

Vikings Rookie Will Have a Massive Role Going Forward

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Despite all those problems and additional injuries to Jaren Hall, Nick Mullens, Alexander Mattison, Cam Akers, and K.J. Osborn, the Vikings have won five straight matchups, completely turning around the season after a 1-4 start. However, they now must survive the time without Hicks on defense, who has been the team’s primary communicator on that side of the ball.

As the player with the green dot on his helmet, he received the play calls from defensive coordinator Brian Flores, audibles, and other points of emphasis. That important job will be handled by rookie Ivan Pace going forward. He has been a rockstar for the Vikings, arriving as an undrafted player and immediately grabbing a starting role.

Vikings Rookie Will Have a Massive Role Going Forward
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The good news, however, is that Pace practiced with the green dot for a while in training camp and had that responsibility in the preseason, preparing for this exact moment. Flores was asked about that on Thursday:

That’s why you do it. Things happen to every team over the season. You want to have a backup at every position and have a plan for if somebody’s shoe comes off or worse. So it was good for him to get those reps in the preseason and then I thought he did a nice job with it in-game. I got to talk to Ivan a little bit more than I do to Jordan because [I give him] some reminders that I know Jordan knows and he’s passing out to his teammates that Ivan in some instances just needs a little bit more like any young player.

I thought he did a nice job of getting the calls out, executing the calls, playing fast and we’ll need more of that.

That part of it is obviously a big part because you have to get that information out but then it’s the execution piece that’s really the most important part of it and telling the group, ‘hey, we’re running Cover 3’ is one thing, but within a play based on what they do, we can do this, this, and that and just our overall getting us in the right call between the actual green dot player and the other communicators, primarily the safeties, that cohesion got to be right and something we’ll work on this week.

Brian Flores

It will be on Pace to give Flores’ adjustments and thoughts on every play to his teammates while reacting to the offensive lineup. That can be hard for a rookie who is usually slower to process things and surely hasn’t seen everything opponents can throw at him.

Young LB Says
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Fellow linebackers Brian Asamoah and Troy Dye will also work in that role in practice if Pace has to come out of the game. Like the quarterback helmet, the speaker will turn off when there are only 15 seconds on the play clock.

Pace, the 22-year-old defender out of the University of Cincinnati, has been a wonderful contributor for the Vikings. Undrafted players are always a longshot to make the team, and they rarely contribute in prominent roles early in their careers. But Pace was different from the get-go. Most draft pundits expected him to come off the board in the mid-rounds, even after adjusting for his size struggles.

All he has done since entering the building is play at a high level, earning praise from coaches, teammates, and the media.

Pace has played in all ten games this season, officially logging six starts. The linebacker has already racked up 37 combined tackles, five quarterback hits, and 0.5 sacks. Regardless of those numbers, he is even looking better on tape, blowing up blockers on running plays, shooting through gaps as a blitzer, and making crucial tackles in the open field. In addition to that, his coverage has been solid.

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So far, Pace has played in a rotation role, playing on exactly 50% of the defensive snaps. The main reason is Flores’ defensive approach, especially his opponent-specific game plans. He likes to have three safeties on the field, and there have been some games and plays in which he wanted an extra pass-rusher or defensive lineman in the game. While Hicks is recovering from his injury, his role will grow, especially when he is wearing the green dot helmet.

If Pace does a good job making the calls on the field and getting his guys in position, there is a good chance he will keep that assignment in the future. His first test will be on the road in Denver, facing Russell Wilson and Sean Payton.

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