Patterson warrants more touches

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Two questions are unavoidable after watching Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's eye-popping performance Saturday night at Mississippi State:

1. Which was more spectacular: The three devastating cuts he made on a 98-yard kickoff return or the acceleration he showed after reversing his field on a dazzling 34-yard scrimmage run?

2. Why hasn't his dynamic running ability been exploited more fully?

Patterson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound transfer from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, is a quality receiver who is averaging 13.7 yards on 23 catches to date. Where he really shines, however, is as a runner once he has the ball in his hands. He is averaging 19.5 yards on 11 scrimmage carries and 38.2 yards on eight kickoff returns.

Given CP's explosive blend of size, speed and vision, you'd think offensive coordinator Jim Chaney would be getting him the football at least 10 times per game. Apparently, that's part of the master plan.

"Coach Chaney's got a big playbook, and his special thing is to see how many ways he can get me the ball," Patterson said this week. "Hopefully, there will be more opportunities to get the ball to showcase myself."

Recognizing that his offensive capabilities weren't being fully utilized through the first five games, he spent the open-date week prior to the Mississippi State contest lobbying Vol coaches.

"I'd been begging 'em all week to give me a little toss or something," he recalled, "just to see what I can do."

The coaches hastily added a play featuring Patterson at tailback, taking a pitch and hitting the right side of the line. For balance, they added a variation featuring him taking a pitch and hitting the left side of the line.

"I've just got one play back there ... toss me the ball and let me try to do something with it," he said.

So, basically, he takes the pitch from Tyler Bray and then takes off.

"Yeah," Patterson replied. "Just whatever way he tells me to go."

Running end-arounds and speed-sweep plays, Patterson carried the ball eight times for 157 yards (19.6 per attempt) in the first five games. Included was a 67-yard TD run in the opener versus North Carolina State. Pitching him the ball at tailback, however, enables Patterson to get the ball quicker with more time to locate a crease.

"Yeah, it's pretty good being back there," he said.

It's pretty good being back there on kickoff returns, too. Patterson did a magnificent job of reading his blocks and making defenders miss on Saturday night's 98-yard runback. Watching it on film, even he was impressed with the run.

"It just put a big smile on my face, seeing me doing that," he said. "It's amazing."

Patterson's 38.2-yard average ranks second nationally, meaning he has a great opportunity to lead the NCAA in kickoff returns this fall.

"I haven't thought about it," he said, "but it would be pretty amazing to be the leader in that."

Although he is blessed with exceptional size and speed, Patterson's greatest gift is a knack for seeing creases and zooming through them.

"You can't coach that," he said. "They can coach you which way to go but then you've got to be yourself when you get the ball."

Likewise, no one can coach what Patterson did on the first scrimmage play of the second half versus Mississippi State. Taking a pitch around right end, he found five Bulldog defenders waiting for him. Patterson's running instincts kicked in at this point.

"I was thinking, 'Just go out of bounds and go to the next play,'" he recalled. "But I saw a crease on the backside and decided to take it and hit it and see what I could do with it."

What he would "do with it" was turn a closed field into a broken-field run of 34 yards. Asked why he is so dangerous in the open field, Patterson shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "I just see a hole and I try to get there as quick as I can, make a play."

Given Patterson's extraordinary abilities as a ball-carrier, it's amazing that he has spent virtually no time at running back in his career.

"I think when I was real young," he said, "but I can't remember."

Patterson says running the ball as a tailback is vastly different than running after the catch as a wideout.

"As a running back, everybody's coming after you and you're going to get hit," he said. "At receiver, you've got some open space, so you can make a move and get free."

With 23 receptions through six games, Patterson is averaging nearly 4.0 catches per outing. Still, he'd like to be targeted more often.

"I would," he said, "but I know on offense we've got a heck of a player (wideout Justin Hunter), so I'm not mad about that. I know they (other receivers) can do things, too."

Maybe. But the things Tennessee's other receivers do don't include 98-yard kickoff returns and jaw-dropping 34-yard scrimmage bursts.

Have a look at what offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said about Patterson and other aspects of the Vol offense in the InsideTennessee videos below:

Jim Chaney

Darin Hinshaw

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