One Man Has Stolen the Show at Vikings Training Camp

Jul 28, 2018; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings new training facility TCO Performance Center in Eagan MN. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings training camp has been headlined by Jordan Addison’s promising start, a true-blue kicking competition, Akayleb Evans’ recent ascension to CB2, and Danielle Hunter signing a one-year contract.

One Man Has Stolen the Show at Vikings Training Camp

But arguably the most important development is the emergence of undrafted free-agent linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

One Man Has Stolen
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.

Pace Jr. raised eyebrows — in a positive manner — during training camp’s first week when he experienced action with the second-team defense. He lived in an advantageous spot to eventually make the 53-man roster, a prediction held far and wide by Vikings fans and pundits.

Fast forward to Week 2 of camp, and Pace began intermingling with the first-teamers. Of course, a rookie linebacker trending to play in the regular season during his maiden voyage isn’t otherworldly; it happens all the time.

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.

But Pace Jr. was passed over by 32 NFL teams — repeatedly — in April’s draft. Nobody wanted him. Plain and simple. Thankfully for his sake, and now the team’s, evidently — Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made the UDFA call for his services.

He’s now a Viking indefinitely and could end up starting in September or at least playing meaningful regular season snaps. That doesn’t happen often for first-year UDFAs.

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.

Longtime Vikings safety Harrison Smith even touted Pace Jr.’s trajectory, a noteworthy feat because Smith has seen some things in 12 years on the job.

“That Thursday game, we’ll see some stuff against Seattle. But always if you look at the draft, you look at some of the top picks, obviously [Jordan Addison], Mekhi [Blackmon] in the secondary is doing some good things. There’s a lot of guys but I don’t want to name names. I’ll give you one under the radar: Ivan Pace, I think will show up on the Seattle tape, and next week,” Smith predicted about the Vikings youngsters, and Pace in particular.

Sep 24, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

The linebacker started his college career playing for Miami (Ohio), where he spent his first three seasons. 2021 was his only full season, and he recorded an outstanding 125 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble in 13 games. That was good enough to make first-team All-MAC.

The only real knock on Pace Jr. leading up to the draft was height; he’s 5’11,” which is short for an off-ball linebacker.

After 2021, Pace transferred to Cincinnati, his hometown, where he joined his brother on the team. Once again, the raw numbers were impressive, 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 after his fantastic season.

Suddenly, he find himself propped up by Harrison Smith — not a bad start to a career through two weeks of training camp.

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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