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2023 Vikings Position Recap: Inside Linebackers

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings were thankful for fresh and familiar faces alike in their linebackers room last season.

The room included diamond-in-the-rough Ivan Pace, Jr., garnering ample attention, to a reunion with Anthony Barr halfway through the season.

Jordan Hicks led the linebackers after Minnesota parted ways with veteran Eric Kendricks following the 2022 season. Hicks assumed "green dot" helmet responsibilities and started all 13 games he played, bouncing back from a significant injury in Week 10. He totaled 107 tackles, marking his fifth straight season with 100-plus.

The Vikings signed Pace as an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, and they quickly put a lot on the rookie's shoulders. He answered the call, though, starting 10 of 17 games. Pace is the second undrafted rookie in Vikings history (Don Hultz, 1963) and eighth in NFL history to start at least 10 games, tally 2.0 sacks and an interception, and the first since Cardinals DE Fred Wakefield in 2001.

View the best photos of Vikings linebackers Jordan Hicks, Ivan Pace Jr., Anthony Barr, Troy Dye, Brian Asamoah II , and Nick Vigil during the 2023 season.

When Hicks was sidelined for five weeks (four games, plus the bye), the Vikings signed Barr, who had played for Minnesota from 2014-21, to the practice squad. Barr was a game-day elevation in Weeks 11 and 12, and he was signed to the active roster for the season's final two weeks.

Troy Dye mainly served as a special teams ace for Minnesota, playing 296 special teams snaps. He contributed more heavily on defense in Hicks' absence, recording 13 tackles over those five games.

The Vikings signed Nick Vigil to the practice squad just before the regular season. Vigil, who had been with Minnesota in 2021, was a game-day elevation in Weeks 8 and 9 and was signed to the active roster Nov. 11 ahead of Hicks moving to Injured Reserve. Vigil was waived on Dec. 23, signed to the practice squad Dec. 29 and the next day returned to the active roster.

Brian Asamoah II was utilized sparingly on special teams and defense.

Notable Numbers:

42 – At Chicago in Week 6, Hicks recovered a fumble by Bears QB Tyson Bagent and returned it 42 yards for his first career fumble-return touchdown. Hicks' highlight-reel outing also included 10 tackles, an interception and a pass defensed, helping the Vikings win 19-13.

1 of 2 – Pace was one of two undrafted rookies named by analytics site Pro Football Focus to its 2023 All-Rookie Team. PFF's Dalton Wasserman called Pace "the perfect fit" for Brian Flores' defense, earning himself an overall grade of 77.2 that led all qualified first-year linebackers and ranked 17th in the league.

21.9 – According to Pro Football Focus, Pace's 21.9 percent pass-rush win rate was the second highest among linebackers with at least 20 pass-rush snaps in 2023. Miami's Duke Riley topped the list with 22.6.

-5 – Dye recorded his first career sack at Las Vegas, taking down Aiden O'Connell for a 5-yard loss. Dye was one of four Vikings to sack the Raiders QB en route to a 3-0 win.

Regular-Season Statistics


Highest High: Keeping Pace in Vegas

Pace couldn't have tabbed a much better time to get his first career interception.

The rookie linebacker picked off O'Connell at the Las Vegas 34-yard line just inside the 2-minute warning. The interception occurred on the first snap after the Vikings took a 3-0 lead. The pass was intended for Davante Adams, who tackled Pace for no gain after the interception.

In that same game, Pace also racked up a season-high 13 tackles and logged a sack of O'Connell.

He became just the second NFL rookie since 1994, and the first since DeMeco Ryans in 2006, to have 13 tackles, a sack and an interception in a single game.

Lowest Low: A Scare Against the Saints

Against New Orleans in Week 10, Hicks suffered a potentially devastating leg injury on Minnesota's sixth defensive play of the game.

Hicks inadvertently took Camryn Bynum's helmet to the shin on a combined tackle, but he initially felt he'd only suffered a contusion and returned to the game after testing it on the sideline. But by the end of the second half's opening drive, Hicks was in excruciating pain and realized something much more significant than a bruise had occurred.

The injury had developed into compartment syndrome, a condition in which pressure rises in and around muscles, most often in the lower leg. Compartment syndrome can limit the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to muscles and nerves. It can cause serious damage, including the need for amputation, and, in rare cases, even death.

Hicks was taken by ambulance to the hospital for emergency surgery, thus beginning a five-week recovery before returning to action in Week 16.

2 Pressing Questions for 2024

  1. Will Minnesota bring back Hicks?

Set to turn 32 in June, Hicks isn't getting any younger. But he certainly seems to have plenty of juice left.

Hicks demonstrated the above when he recovered from compartment syndrome and emergency surgery in time to play the Vikings final three regular-season games. Not just play, either. Hicks started those contests and totaled 20 tackles, a quarterback hit and pass defensed. He nearly had a sack and forced fumble (that was returned for a touchdown) in his first game back, but officials ruled Jared Goff's arm was going forward when the ball was released.

Minnesota first signed Hicks as a free agent in 2022, and the linebacker last spring agreed to a restructure. But he is slated to hit free agency again at the new league year's open. Will the Vikings look to bring him back once more?

  1. Will Pace take another step forward in season two?

ESPN analyst Jordan Reid was asked last month which late-round pick was outperforming expectations in season one.

Reid pointed to the undrafted Pace and wrote the following:

"One of the biggest steals of the 2023 draft came after its conclusion. Pace, who went undrafted, has been an unsung hero for the Vikings defense. He took control of Brian Flores' unit after linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered a leg injury in Week 10. Pace is an instinctive and aggressive tackler, and he is playing in the perfect defense to showcase his skill set."

With year one under his belt and an entire offseason between him and the 2024 campaign, will Pace make another leap forward?