Vikings rookie Pace makes smooth transition to defense’s on-field leader

Coaches and players credited the horde of Vikings fans who traveled to Sunday night's loss in Denver, but on the field it still sounded like a road prime-time game to rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

Pace stepped into the largest role of his young NFL career against the Broncos, replacing team captain Jordan Hicks as the defensive signal caller responsible for relaying coordinator Brian Flores' words to his teammates over the crowd noise. Pace played every snap for the first time in his career and led the Vikings with nine tackles.

"They worked hard last week on the communication on the in-game adjustments," Flores said Tuesday. "They went off without really much of a hitch. We're going to need that moving forward."

Flores called the transition "smooth" to Pace, the undrafted defender who has played 112 fewer NFL games than Hicks. Pace described his experience as a little more chaotic. He said he was grateful for coaches giving him preseason reps as the one with the in-helmet mic.

"Yelling is one of the big things because it's so loud and the atmosphere is just crazy," Pace said. "They sometimes don't hear you or sometimes not everybody is in the huddle. You're getting asked like six, seven times, 'What's the play call? What's the play call?' Then you get lined up and somebody forgets it — 'What's the play call?' It's so much, but it was a good feeling."

The Vikings are holding out hope Hicks, who underwent shin surgery last week, can return this season. Linebacker Anthony Barr played 12 snaps after re-signing just five days before Sunday's loss, and his role will gradually increase, Flores said.

"Surprisingly, I feel great," said Barr, who had not played since a Jan. 22 playoff loss for the Cowboys. He added he likes what he's seen from Flores' defense.

"It's a lot of fun," Barr said. "Stuff I'm not real familiar with and some stuff that might look crazy at first, but it all has a purpose and all has a reason. It's very tactical and well thought out. I think you can see it with the style of defense and the way guys are playing."

Will Chandler's role keep growing?

Running back Alexander Mattison's fumble was a pivotal moment in Sunday's loss and perhaps also in his own frustrating season. Mattison had some strong runs in an 81-yard outing, but the fumble was atop offensive coordinator Wes Phillips' mind when asked about evaluating Mattison's night as a whole.

"Number one is ball security," Phillips said. "We were not at our standard by any means as far as protecting the football. I think both of those guys getting some carries is a good thing. Love to see Ty get in there and make some plays, not only in the run game but the pass game as well. You're seeing when he's touching the ball, some good things are happening for us. Even in the special teams game, so I think that will continue."

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Could roles change in the Vikings backfield? Coaches will discuss second-year running back Ty Chandler's reps after he played 23 snaps to Mattison's 48 snaps in Denver. Chandler led both teams with 110 yards from scrimmage.

"We're going to continue to try to get him touches," Phillips said. "What that exactly looks like going forward we'll keep talking about."

Joshua Dobbs, the magician

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has Vikings fans dressing as astronauts in the stands, but the aeronautical engineering major has coaches thinking of a different occupation.

"He's kind of been a magician back there," Phillips said. "He's avoided some tough looks and really pulled out of some things where it looks like most guys would've got their legs clipped. He's got enough acceleration and speed to avoid some of that stuff."

Since taking three sacks that resulted in two turnovers and a safety in his Vikings debut against the Falcons, Dobbs has made plays with his legs both by running for 65 yards and buying time as a passer. He shed a 257-pound Broncos defender before throwing a 3-yard touchdown to tight end Josh Oliver in Denver. He's been sacked only three times in two starts despite defenders getting close.

Phillips said there's a balance Dobbs and coaches must find between enabling his playmaking ability and avoiding sacks and turnovers.

"You're not trying to take that part of his game away," Phillips added.

Day promoted to active roster

A day after announcing defensive lineman Dean Lowry would need surgery for a torn pectoral muscle suffered against the Broncos, the Vikings promoted defensive tackle Sheldon Day to the 53-man roster. The Vikings waived receiver Trishton Jackson, who is likely headed back to the practice squad.

The team also shuffled the practice squad on Tuesday, signing outside linebacker Austin Bryant and waiving receiver Dan Chisena.