Kevin O’Connell Thinks the Promising Rookie ‘Keeps Flashing’

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings lost their first preseason contest in Seattle facing the Seahawks, but the results are not important before September 10th when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town to open the regular season. Much more meaningful is how the players look during the game, it was the first NFL experience for many of them.

Kevin O’Connell Thinks the Promising Rookie ‘Keeps Flashing’

the promising
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace continues to look like anything but an undrafted player. He has been sensational all summer, dominating training camp and the preseason field from the get-go. The Vikings landed a stud without even spending a draft pick.

With the two starters Brian Asamoah and Jordan Hicks not suiting up, Ivan Pace was the top Vikings linebacker on Brian Flores’ defense, proving that he has, in fact, already usurped Troy Dye and Troy Reeder. He received plenty of snaps and even had the green dot on the helmet, meaning that he received the play calls from Flores, having to communicate with his teammates to let them know their jobs.

Despite the higher level of competition, the responsibility of having to communicate a lot, and perhaps a nervous mind because it was his first game as a professional football player, he played a great game, and Kevin O’Connell praised him during his presser:

He keeps flashing. You just see him around the ball a lot, he got a lot of green dot work on the defense which I know he was looking forward to and all that guy does is continue to do what he’s done his whole career which is make a lot of plays, be around the football, savvy, instincts and then when he sees it, he’s downhill making plays and [I’m] really really excited about where he’s at right now.

Ivan Pace Jr. of Colerain shows the football after scoring a touchdown against St. X in the OHSAA DI Region 4 Playoffs at Colerain High School, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. © Michael Noyes for The Enquirer.

His stat line showed relatively boring numbers of 4 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles without a sack, a quarterback hit, or a tackle for loss. But he still resembled a future starter in the league. He was always close to the play, showing sideline-to-sideline range, physical quickness, and the ability to diagnose plays quickly.

The unanimous first-team All-American showed that the league made a huge mistake in not drafting him. While he didn’t make many splashy plays, he still displayed his aggressiveness, running straight into guards on running plays and blowing up the blocking scheme is one of his trademark moves. The other is him blitzing and pressuring the quarterback. Despite the status of a preseason game, Brian Flores sent additional rushers multiple times, and Pace was often used to showcase his exciting pass-rush ability.

O’Connell was pleased with his rookie, but he wants him to keep going:

And now it’s the same thing with a lot of the players that are off to a really good start, can you consistently sustain it through training camp and through the joint practice work when we’re really in a controlled setting; it’s for real and we’re trying to truly see where we’re at as a football team.

One preseason game and a couple of weeks of training camp don’t make a career. Other players in the past played well in those settings but were out of the league within weeks. He indeed must keep going.

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The joint practices with the Tennessee Titans will occur on Wednesday and Thursday. The Arizona Cardinals will join the purple team at TCO Performance Center to scrimmage with the Vikings one week later. O’Connell and his staff emphasize those practices and prefer them over the preseason contest to prepare the team for the regular season.

Unlike in the preseason, all starters will take part. Pace has been playing a lot with the first-team defense, so he will go up against NFL starters other than the Vikings’ for the first time in his career during those practices.

While there were some losers in the contest, Pace, 22, was one of the big winners, and he has been for quite a while now. It remains to be seen if he can keep performing at this level and help the Vikings win football games in the future.

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