Ivan Pace Jr. Could Be on the Field Sooner than You Think

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.

Perhaps the top Minnesota Vikings storyline of the summer, undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. isn’t done with the surprises.

Ivan Pace Jr. Could Be on the Field Sooner than You Think

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah found the 22-year-old following the 2023 NFL Draft after every NFL general manager passed on his scouting report. The man was evidently ‘too small’ for an off-ball linebacker, causing Pace Jr. to hit undrafted free agency right away.

Now, the University of Cincinnati alumnus might do something else right away — grab on-the-field playing time.

Field Sooner than
Ivan Pace Jr. of Colerain High School wins boys athlete of the year award during their Cincinnati.com Sports Awards, sponsored by TriHealth, on Thursday, April 18, 2019, at Cincinnati Music Hall in Cincinnati. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell was asked to describe Pace Jr.’s impact on Brian Flores’ new purple defense thus far, and he replied, “Really in every facet of the game, how we’re playing defense, the communication, pressure, no pressure. Has the athleticism to run sideline to sideline, maybe cancel out some mistakes, if we lose a gap here and there, he’s shown to be able to get off blocks for a guy that, when I watched his tape in college, he was almost unblockable, and that’s translating in a lot of ways.”

Had that been all O’Connell said, those musings would’ve been enough compliments for an undrafted free agent. But O’Connell continued.

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.

“It could be a great look for a play, getting a lineman up to him on the second level, and he somehow avoids that block and makes the play while doing his job. So he doesn’t, you know, undress any other facet of a defensive call. He did great with the green dot the other day in Seattle. So really, gold stars all the way around right now for Ivan, and as I’ve challenged him to do, you’re not just trying to compete to make our team,” the Vikings skipper said about Pace Jr.

Some team owed itself the ‘risk’ of selecting Pace in Round 4. Or Round 5. Or 6. Or 7. The only discernible knock on the Cincinnati alumnus was height and size — he’s 5’11,” and off-ball linebackers typically stand about an inch or two taller.

Good Morning Football'
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.

O’Connell finished the Pace Jr.-themed thoughts with a surprising declaration, “Let’s see where you can go and possibly help us win football games from the jump.

From the jump heavily implies Pace Jr. will experience regular season playing time out of the gate and may not be an after-2023 prospect whose skillset is still raw. That man sounds ready now.

Coach Power
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on from the sideline against the New York Giants during the second quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Pace Jr. has one major item in his favor the Vikings linebackers aren’t Pro Bowl-caliber performers. Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah are penciled in as the starters, and while those men are notable among Vikings fans, the LB room is beckoning someone to emerge and seize the day. Moreover, the team’s linebacking depth after Hicks and Asamoah consists of Troy Dye and Troy Reeder — two men who almost seem below Pace Jr.’s roster placement at the moment.

The moral of the story? Pace Jr. could be on the regular season field as early as September. And that’s about three weeks away.

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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