Cordarrelle Patterson leads the NFL in kick-return average, but he sees missed opportunities when watching film of his returns.
Patterson, the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month, said he is learning to trust his blockers as he progresses as a kick returner, his main role during the first month of the season.
"Sometimes, returners, we feel like the block ain't there, but it's always there. You've just got to trust in it," he said. "Sometimes we have a hard time believing it and I go back all the time and watch film on it and I've seen a lot of plays I could have got farther and didn't trust my block and I just tried to cut it up and rely on my ability. You've just got to trust in your blocks and believe that it's going to be there for you."
So far, the blocks have been there more often than not. Patterson already has a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, tied for the longest in the league this season. He also leads the league among players with at least 10 returns with a 33.8-yard average.
He passed Devin Hester, who was leading the league, in Week 4.
"I really try to pay that no attention. That can be a distraction to you and then you worry about it every week and who is trying to compete with you. I just don't try to look at that," Patterson said. "I just try to work hard. It's a great opportunity for me to be at the top of that list, but each weekend it can change and other people can lead on top of me. I take pride in it. It's a great opportunity for me to hit it and it's a good thing for me and my organization."
As a team, the Vikings lead the NFL with a 30.4-yard average on kick returns and are tied for second with two returns that have gone 40 yards or more.
According to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, there isn't much Patterson misses in terms of seeing the return lanes.
"He's a big, strong man that has great explosion. He can break tackles," Priefer said. "He has really good vision, better than I thought he had coming out of college. I didn't think he had bad vision, I just didn't know how good it was. His vision is pretty special. He can see things open up, he can see what tacklers are approaching him, what cut to make at the right moment, and for the most part our blocking's been very, very good. But when it's broken down a little bit, he has the ability to make people miss, break tackles and explode through a seam, however small it may be."
Patterson and the only other kick returner with a touchdown this season, Denver's Trindon Holliday, show that effectiveness can come in many different body types. Patterson is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. Holliday is 5-foot-5, 170 pounds.
The Vikings have essentially given Patterson a green light to take returns deep out of the end zone, and he has returned several from eight and nine yards deep. That's one of the reasons the team is tied for third in the league with 14 kickoff returns despite already having their bye week.
"If we want to make something happen in the kickoff return game, we're going to continue to be aggressive. Until we get a bunch of tackles inside the 20, we're going to bring it out, be aggressive and put pressure on people because he's good and we've blocked pretty well this year for the most part," Priefer said.
"We talk about it before every play, where to lineup, whether or not to bring it out, because every situation's going to be different. The time of the game, the score of the game, whatever the case may be. What kick to anticipate, whether it's the end of the half, beginning of the half, middle of the fourth quarter and you're up by 10 or down by 7, whatever the case may be. So every situation's different. He's done a great job of listening, being coachable and being aggressive when we need him to be aggressive."
Patterson likely won't have much of an opportunity this weekend. Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano leads the league by having 94 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks. In four games, Panthers opponents have returned only one kick, for 24 yards.
But it's clear if Patterson gets the right opportunity, he is going to take advantage of it.
"I've been having a good run on special teams. I've got a great coach back there helping me out. He trusts in me and believes in me and everything I do," Patterson said. "He trusts me and I've got those other 10 guys blocking for me; they trust me back there. Whenever I catch it, I feel like I can bring it out. Those guys are working as hard as me blocking for me and I respect them for that."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Patterson sees missed opportunities on film
Viking Update Top Stories
Sunday slant: Finally, a worthy WR corpsThe Minnesota Vikings receiving corps showed in OTAs that they are as solid a group as the team has had in a long time.
Viking Update6:38 AM
Kick return job open for businessSpecial teams coordinator Mike Priefer has a big job in front of him – finding a third game-breaking kickoff returner for the Minnesota Vikings.
Viking Update5:58 AM
Vikings testify of hard-throwing BridgewaterAlthough Teddy Bridgewater isn’t fully back from his knee injury, teammates and coaches like his arm strength.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:47 AM
Vikings defense in good handsNo Zim? No problem for Minnesota Vikings defense while the top dog recuperates.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:01 AM