One of three first-round draft picks for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, Patterson has the look and sounds of an emerging star and doesn’t want to bow out on any chances to have the ball in his hands.
“Last year, that’s where I made my money at, on kickoff returns. So ain’t no need for me to be lobbying off of that,” Patterson said. “That’s my job, man. So I don’t feel like I need to get off that unless coach tells me to.”
The coach of Sunday’s opponent, Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams, is cautious about giving Patterson the chance to return kicks in the season opener.
“Cordarrelle is going to return every single kickoff that he can get his hands on. He did that last year and he did it very well. If you want to create problems for yourself, give him a returnable ball,” Fisher said. “Obviously the more balls you can kick out of the end zone, the better off you are.”
The Rams ended up drafting receiver/return man Tavon Austin eighth overall last year while the Vikings traded back into the first round to pick up Patterson 29th overall. They serve similar roles for their respective teams this year, but Fisher said the Titans gave Patterson a workout prior to the draft and “really liked him” after seeing his ability in person.
Patterson said he talked with Fisher at the ESPYs and told him to make sure he kicks the ball his way.
“I feel like they’re going to try to kick it to me,” Patterson said. “Their kicker, he’s got a big leg, so I feel like he’s going to try to kick it out of the end zone, so if he don’t I’m going to try to bring it out.”
Last year, Patterson tied the NFL record with a 109-yard kickoff return against the Green Bay Packers, and led the NFL and set the Vikings record by averaging 32.4 yards on kickoff returns.
Patterson’s impact, of course, goes beyond kickoff returns, where he made it as a Pro Bowl returner last year. He didn’t get as much of a chance to excel until the second half of the season on offense, but a bigger, full-time role is expected of him this year. Last year’s coaching staff was hesitant to use him too much on offense at the beginning of the season because they felt he was raw in his route-running.
“I had heard things about last year, but he’s been the same guy since I’ve been here. He works hard, catches the ball, wants to be good, same personality. Nothing’s different for me from when I’ve been here,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
“The size and speed make it a tough matchup. He’s a great run-after-catch guy, as well. Last year, I know they used him on a lot of screens, hitches and things like that. His running ability kind of sets him apart a little bit more. When he catches the ball down field and has a chance to run, he’s a strong, powerful runner.”
While Patterson will have a bigger role on offense, he said teams can’t just game plan for “84” with all the other weapons on the team. Still, he knows much more will be asked of him this year.
“Oh, I thought about that two days ago, man. It kind of made me a little nervous,” he said. “The season opener, now I’m starting, so it’s a little pressure that’s going to building up in me. I’m just ready for Week 1 to get here, man, to get that little bubble guts out of the way.
“We know what (offensive coordinator Norv Turner) can do. He’s going to get his playmakers the ball. And kick return, that’s my game.”
TALE OF TWO FULLBACKS
The Vikings went from questions about whether they would keep fullback Jerome Felton to keeping two fullbacks – Felton and Zach Line. Given the preciousness of roster spots at the NFL level, it was a move that took some by surprise.
“We think they’re both good players and fullbacks are hard to find if something happens,” Zimmer said. “Plus, I think the need in this offense is big. And then we don’t want to lose good football players if they’re young guys, too.”
Line has an ankle injury and his availability for Sunday’s season opener is questionable, but he can also offer the Vikings some duty on special teams.
But Zimmer said Line’s style is a little different from Felton’s and that versatility is helpful with coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.
“They have a little different styles. He’s probably not a running back. He’s a fullback, but he can be in space a little bit more than Jerome,” Zimmer said. “Other than that, really, the position is just really hard to find nowadays.”
For the Rams, CB Trumaine Johnson (knee) and C Barrett Jones (back) didn’t practice for the second straight day. OT Jake Long (knee), DE William Hayes (chest) and LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (shoulder) were full participants Thursday after being limited Wednesday. DE Eugene Sims (knee) remained limited.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.