Patterson leading charge for return job

Cordarrelle Patterson showed his skills as a dynamic receiver early in training camp and is at the front of the line to showcase them as the Vikings' kickoff returner.

Cordarrelle Patterson should receive plenty of time at receiver in the Vikings' offense. He might even have a chance to start by the beginning of the regular season.

For now, Patterson has been taking mostly second-team reps with the wide receivers, with Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson the first two receivers in the rotation, but Patterson already has the lead at one job – returning kickoffs – according to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

"I would think so and (we'll) see how he develops this training camp," Priefer said after the Saturday morning walk-through.

Patterson and the Vikings spent a lot of time during that walk-through reviewing different kickoff returns and he has done nothing to discourage the Vikings' initial feelings about him when they traded second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks to move back up into the first round and draft him No. 29 overall in April.

"I was very excited about him. We had him ranked as one of the top two returners that were coming out of the draft last year (just behind West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who was drafted No. 8 overall by St. Louis). … Very excited. He's such a talent. He's big, he's strong and he can run. Big kid, coachable," Priefer said.

At least one of Patterson's fellow returners was teasing him by calling him "first-rounder" Saturday.

The other candidates to challenge Patterson as Percy Harvin's replacement for kick returns were Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson.

Last year, Harvin led all NFL kick returners with at least 10 attempts with a 35.9-yard average on 16 returns. It was part of the reason Harvin was mentioned by teammates as a league MVP candidate before an ankle injury prematurely ended his season.

But Patterson is no slouch at returning kicks, either. Witness his 28-yard average on 24 returns in his only season at the University of Tennessee, ranking second in Southeastern Conference history for kickoff return average in a single season.

"We're hoping he's going to be our No. 1 guy. He has that kind of ability. He showed that at Tennessee," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's done a good job in our OTAs and even in these two practices that we've had. We worked on kickoff return today and he did a good job. We've got to get him in some preseason games and let him get a feel for it there, but we're hoping he's going to be our No. 1 guy."

While the production and some of the open-field elusiveness are similar to Harvin, the size is not. Harvin is 5-foot-9, 184 pounds; Patterson casts an imposing figure as a 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver and return man.

"He was one of our top 30 guys before the draft and of course I had to evaluate him on tape and saw all of his returns and studied him," Priefer said. "When he walks in the room and takes up the doorway, you're like, ‘Wow, that's a big man.'"

He was big in several facets of the game. In addition to catching 46 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns last year, Patterson also rushed 25 times for 308 yards and three touchdowns, as well as returning four punts for 101 yards (an impressive 25.3-yard average).

Sherels is expected to be the top punt returner when the regular season starts, and Patterson admitted he isn't completely comfortable in that role yet after dropping a couple of punts in windy conditions Friday.

"I'm kind of comfortable with it. In college, I didn't really do it that much (at Tennessee). I did it when they needed me to, but out here it was a little windy," Patterson said. "I had a couple drops, but you've got to bounce back. You can't let a drop distract you from what you're trying to reach in life."

His experience returning kicks is far different and appears to be much more polished, which is why he is the leader to earn that job opening.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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