Vikings Summer Sensation Turned out NOT to Win Starting Job

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

If you’ve followed Minnesota Vikings football in the last two months, newcomer linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. is one of the lights in your life.

The undrafted free-agent rookie barnstormed the Vikings training camp and preseason, snagging a 53-man roster spot with utter ease.

Vikings Summer Sensation Turned out NOT to Win Starting Job

But one widely-broadcast factoid about Pace Jr. was false. The man will not start for the 2023 Vikings.

Summer 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.

On August 27th, the Barstool Cincinnati social media account on the X app announced that Pace Jr. had won a starting job in Minnesota’s Brian Flores-led defense. Pace Jr. attended Cincinnati, so many believed the Barstool account had insider intel or something of the sort.

Well, nope.

Mar 1, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr. (LB23) speaks to the press at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Barstool Cincinnati tweeted that evening, “After going undrafted, Ivan Pace has been named a starter by the Minnesota Vikings.”

Here’s a visual of the tweet:

@UCBarstool then credited another prominent Vikings social media account with the information, although nobody in the Vikings orbit ordained Pace Jr. a starter.

Nov 5, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) celebrates after a sack against Navy Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline (not pictured) in the fourth quarter at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY NETWORK.

Instead, second-year linebacker Brian Asamoah and longtime veteran Jordan Hicks will patrol the middle of the Vikings defense via linebacking personnel, and Pace Jr. will presumably acclimate to the NFL gradually — which makes more sense than an undrafted free agent starting out of the gate.

Pace Jr. fetched a 4th-Round draft grade fromThe Draft Network in February, and TDN described Pace Jr. like this, “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.”

Oddly, though, every general manager in the sport passed on Pace Jr. during the draft, evidently deeming the Bearcat an inch or two too small for an off-ball linebacker in the big leagues.

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.

All Pace Jr. has done since is turn heads and change minds, careening himself up the Vikings depth chart and creating zero mystery about his roster bubble placement. The bubble didn’t apply to him. The young defender made the regular season roster, skipped the practice squad like a boring college class, and will be near or on the field this Sunday when the Vikings host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Be careful of what you read on the X app or the internet on the whole — Pace Jr. produced a magnificent, storybook summer, to be sure, but he isn’t a Week 1 starter. He’s a second-teamer. For now.

Minnesota is favored by six points to down Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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