Don’t Expect Too Much from Vikings Rookie Sensation

Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Theo Jackson (25) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) tackle Seattle Seahawks running back Zach Charbonnet (26) during the game at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings open their 2023 season with a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, and it will be the first real game for the rookies. First-rounder Jordan Addison is expected to have a significant role on offense to take some pressure off Justin Jefferson, and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon will handle the duties in the slot.

Don’t Expect Too Much from Vikings Rookie Sensation

Expect Too Much From the Rookie Sensation
Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) jogs back to the locker room after pregame ceremonies recognizing seniors on the roster before the first quarter during a college football game against the Tulane Green Wave, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Another rookie standout throughout Minnesota’s summer is Ivan Pace. The undrafted linebacker made his case not just to make the 53-man roster but also to contribute to Brian Flores’ new defense. Flores pumped the brakes during his press conference on Thursday before the Week 1 contest. In the previous few weeks, some folks started to think he could be a starter.

Anytime you get a young guy coming in the way he has and learn the system and produce on the field in practice and the game, it only makes him better, it only makes the entire room better, only makes our team better. Ivan has done a lot of good things and hopefully we can get him in the game for some snaps and continue that trajectory that he’s on. Yeah, those are the guys that have [been our starters]. All three of those guys have played. Game one, no one is able to play 80 snaps in an NFL game, so we’ll try to get as many guys in as possible but we feel good about those three guys.

Brian Flores

Brian Asamoah and Jordan Hicks are the starting linebackers; nothing else should’ve been expected. However, Pace can still play a meaningful role in the new defense as he provides a different skillset with his fantastic ability to rush the passer from the inside linebacker position. He has also shown decent ability to stop the run and in coverage. That is noteworthy in Flores’ versatile defensive approach.

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Asamoah played well in his debut season when he replaced Eric Kendricks and Hicks to give them an occasional breather, and he improved towards the end of the season, earning even more snaps. Once Kendricks departed and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers, it was obvious that Asmaoah would take his spot.

He is a speedy but undersized linebacker, and his upside in coverage was why he was a third-round draft pick. The Vikings invested in the future rather than drafting an instant contributor, and they will start to earn those rewards in 2023.

Hicks is a veteran in the league as he is entering his ninth professional season. He has started 106 games and made 767 tackles. The former Cardinals and Eagles defender is a bigger, more old-school linebacker whose strength is the running defense and blitzing, while his covering skills are shaky.

Vikings Retain Veteran
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) reacts after making a stop against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Regardless, in a young defense with a couple of unproven cornerbacks and Asamoah next to him, it makes a lot of sense to have someone with that kind of experience to call plays on the field and help the young players around him.

A heavy rotation should be expected throughout the season, especially because Flores always referred to the trio and not just the two starters. Early in the season, however, the defensive coordinator may feature the veteran and the sophomore over the rookie and slowly work him in.

Pace will be a critical backup who will play in certain situations, but folks who expect him to take the league by storm starting Week 1 will be disappointed.

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