Priefer confident in Patterson as returner

While Cordarrelle Patterson’s role on offense is in limbo, Mike Priefer left little doubt about his thoughts on Patterson as a kick returner.

Cordarrelle Patterson’s role on offense is still being determined, but there is little doubt he will be the Minnesota Vikings’ kick returner.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made that pretty clear this week, as he talked about different options with the younger players before essentially quashing their chances to unseat Patterson.

“In my mind, Cordarrelle Patterson is the best kickoff returner in the league,” Priefer said. “It would be crazy for me to try and put someone else in that spot, but we’re still bringing competition, we still want him to get better. There’s things that he can’t do this year that he did last year, put the ball on the ground and those things. But he’s still very talented and every time that he’s back there, you guys see what teams do, they get nervous and they don’t like kicking to him, we get great field position because of that.”

Patterson led the NFL and set the franchise record with a 32.4-yard return average as a rookie in 2013. He made it to the Pro Bowl and was voted first-team All-Pro for his return abilities.

Last year, his average dropped to 25.6 yards on kickoff returns, but there are two factors to consider there. Teams often kicked away from Patterson and forced other Vikings further up field to make the return. That led to the Vikings being 26th in overall kick return average (21.7) but they were middle of the road in their average starting field position because teams often kicked short to avoid Patterson.

At this time of year, it’s commonplace to see younger players tested first and that what the how they respond. That’s why rookie Stefon Diggs and deep backup running back DuJuan Harris were the only two returning kicks at this week’s open-access OTA.

“I think right now, yes, (Diggs) has got the skillset to be a returner in this league and I think he’s got to develop and do the little things that are necessary in terms of tracking the ball, catching the ball and getting the ball up field and doing the things that we’re asking him to do, but we will see more of that as we get going in training camp,” Priefer said.

“I think he’s got a great skillset to be a punt returner and I think he’s big and strong enough to be a kickoff returner. He probably could do both, there’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve seen him on tape as a college player, but at this level it’s a little bit different. For me, I think it’s harder to be a punt returner in this league than a kickoff returner, but I think he can do both.”

But right now and for the foreseeable future, Patterson is the obvious choice at kick returner. His role in the receiver rotation is still being determined.

“I think this time of year everyone’s working on getting better and I think Cordarrelle has really taken a very positive approach in terms of doing the things we’re asking him to do,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “He’s like all the guys, he’s working hard at getting better at the things we’re asking him to do.”

Patterson spent time working on his conditioning in California before the Vikings’ offseason conditioning program started in April. After a lackluster 2014 season that saw him lose his starting job, he knows he has to improve.

Coaches have told him that, with head coach Mike Zimmer even suggesting an offseason mentor for Patterson when the Vikings couldn’t have on-field instruction time with him.

The question is this: to what degree did Patterson get that message?

“There’s a lot of things that go into if you’re having success on Sundays. Some of it’s out of your control and a lot of it’s in your control,” Turner said. “I think he understands that and I think he’s working on doing the little things we’re asking him to do. He’s got a smile on his face and he’s working hard.”

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