No undrafted NFL defender has played more for his team this season than Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.
His 25 tackles, including five in Sunday's win against the Panthers, are tied for second among all rookies, whether drafted in the first round or signed after all 259 selections were made.
And while Pace typically averages more tackles than words to reporters in a given week, he put a fine point on what his budding NFL career has taught him.
"I learned the NFL ain't no joke," Pace said. "Everybody's coming for your job. I'm coming for they jobs. It's a lot of lessons learned."
Pace has continued to impress in the regular season, taking hold of an inside linebacker job next to veteran Jordan Hicks that was supposed to be a rotation with second-year linebacker Brian Asamoah II.
Through four games, Pace has played 185 defensive snaps to Asamoah's 18.
Defensive coordinator Brian Flores has praised the 5-foot-10, 231-pound Pace and his ability to "evade blockers in a number of different ways to keep himself alive and go make some plays." He was the second player Flores mentioned last week when asked whether the Vikings defense has enough talent to win one-on-one matchups. Pace was involved in a couple of run stops on Sunday, after which he credited Hicks for his leadership and for "taking me under his wing."
As the games add up, Pace said he intends to run through any rookie wall.
"I'm good. I'm still young," the 22-year-old said. "I still got young bones. Everybody else be talking about they sore and stuff, but I still got young bones."
His favorite moment so far came before the Chargers kickoff on Sept. 24 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Coming out of the tunnel as a starter," he said. "That felt good."
Pace doesn't often leave after running onto the field as a starter. He ranks 10th on the defense in playing time.
"That's just coming from preparation and hard work and showing coaches that they can trust me," Pace said. "It don't matter if I'm starting or the backup."
Smith fined for Week 3 hit
Safety Harrison Smith was fined $21,855 by the league for unnecessary roughness for a hit on Chargers receiver Joshua Palmer on Sept. 24. Smith was not flagged on the play, but he initiated helmet-to-helmet contact. The NFL handed out 32 fines for unnecessary roughness in Week 3, including a $4,870 fine to Chargers safety Raheem Layne for a flagged hit on Vikings receiver Jordan Addison.
About two-thirds of the Week 3 fines (23 of 34) were slapped on defenders for in-game infractions, a tilt that Smith pointed out last week before his fine was announced.
Asked about the NFL publicizing its weekly fines, he told the Star Tribune, "They should be totally transparent on the total amount of money they've taken from defensive players compared to offensive players over the last 10, 15 years."
This is at least the eighth time Smith has been fined in his 12-year career, but there may be some more unaccounted. He's been docked before for both vicious hits and wearing unapproved tights. He has previously won appeals to lower fines.
"I don't really remember how many times I've been fined in my career," Smith said. "I've been fined so many times, I lost track."
Risner 'ready to go' on bench
Guard Dalton Risner is "ready to go," head coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday, after the 28-year-old veteran did not play against Carolina. After giving Risner some first-team reps in practice last week, the Vikings stuck with the same offensive line with guards Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram. O'Connell said he has liked "the way those guys have responded" after Risner's Sept. 18 signing.
"We'll give [Risner] another good week of prep this week, and that best five [starters] mentality is going to hold true," O'Connell said. "I like the way those guys have responded, and I like the way that Dalton has kind of come in here and continues to grind away in his preparation and catching up schemewise with where we're at."
Center Garrett Bradbury was "really close" to playing Sunday, O'Connell said, but he was held out for a third straight game because of a lower back injury.
• Defensive lineman Dean Lowry, who had a key deflection late in Sunday's win, played a season-low 31% of the snaps. His playing time has decreased each week after starting and playing 68% in the season opener. Rookie defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy started and played a season-high 24% of the snaps.
• Running back Kene Nwangwu (back) and guard Chris Reed (leg) were not activated from injured lists despite being eligible Monday. "Both those guys are progressing," O'Connell said. "Those conversations will be ongoing."
• Defensive lineman Junior Aho, the French player awarded to the Vikings as part of the league's international program, is healthy after suffering an undisclosed injury this summer. He was waived Monday from an exempt list to move to the practice squad, where he has another roster exemption and will be eligible to practice.