Brian Flores Praises His Feisty Undrafted Rookie

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Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

The breakout star of Minnesota’s training camp in 2021 was K.J. Osborn, who was limited to a special teams role but exploded in his second season with the team and has become a solid WR3 ever since. In 2022 it was Christian Darrisaw who blew his teammates away and was praised daily. He eventually was one of the elite left tackles in football. One year later, an undrafted rookie is trying to become that breakout star.

Brian Flores Praises His Feisty Undrafted Rookie

Brian Flores Praises His Feisty Undrafted Rookie
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.

Ivan Pace fell in the draft because of a lack of size (5’10”, 231 lbs) and some concerns about his range. But those things didn’t stop him from having an outstanding college year with all-world production.

His great final season came at Cincinnati after transferring from Miami (Ohio), where the linebacker started his college journey and spent the first three seasons of his career. 2021, his last season at Miami, and he recorded impressive numbers – 125 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble in 13 games. That was good enough to be named first-team All-MAC.

After the transfer to his hometown Cincinnati, once again, the numbers were exceptional, as he produced 136 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Pace made first-team All-AAC and was a unanimous All-American choice after his fantastic season.

Sep 10, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Kennesaw State Owls running back Nykeem Farrow (3) runs with the ball against Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings made it a priority to sign him after his tumble on draft day, and he was a part of the most expensive UDFA class in the league. Defensive coordinator Flores has been impressed so far with his rookie despite the challenges with his height:

I think he has some built-in leverage. You don’t really see that until a day like today (with pads on), but based on his college film, he has some built-in leverage. He’s got speed and quickness. I think he’s another young guy who’s really taking the information and working hard to put it into action.

I’m excited to see him moving forward just like I’m excited to really see a lot of the guys in that room – It’s a lot of competition in that room. But Ivan he’s a young player, he’s got some ability. There’s always that small defensive back that can play, Antoine Winfield comes to mind, small linebackers, small defensive tackles et cetera but they’ve got those instincts that allow them to overcome some of the (problems).

Brian Flores

The Vikings had some of those smaller players at their positions. Antoine Winfield was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Vikings despite his size of just 5’9″. John Randle became a Hall of Fame defensive tackle despite his measurements of 6’1″ and 244 lbs coming into the league. Pace is trying to go the Randle route, as he was also undrafted and had to audition, while Winfield was a first-round pick.

5 Vikings Should Get
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) forces a fumble against New York Giants tight end Daniel Bellinger. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The 22-year-old is getting most of his run with the second team, eating into the snaps of Troy Reeder, who has been working with the third team. Brian Asamoah and Jordan Hicks will be the starters barring a big surprise, but behind the two is Troy Dye fighting with Reeder and Pace for a couple of remaining linebacker spots. The Vikings could keep an additional linebacker, considering that Dye and Reeder are special team aces.

Pace might carve out a role early in his career because of his skills as a pass rusher. Flores likes to be aggressive, and Pace is the perfect player for that approach. Brentley Weissman from¬†The Draft Network¬†described Pace as a “heat-seeking missile who has a nose for the football” and the promising summary, “Overall, Pace has everything you want in an inside backer. He has instincts, toughness, and good burst/speed, he just lacks the requisite size and length to excel in the NFL.”

There are six more weeks and three preseason games left in the process, but Pace had a fantastic start to his professional career.

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