Cordarrelle Patterson makes sure his friend know the rule: No football talk when he leaves the Minnesota Vikings’ practice facility. This year, that rule likely helps limit Patterson’s frustration with his role and his inability to return to his rookie success returning kickoffs.
Patterson’s longest kickoff return this year is 33 yards, and considering most of his returns start in the back half of the end zone, the starting field position after kickoffs has rarely been outside the 25-yard line.
Despite that, Patterson feels like every week is the week that will change and he will find the opening he needs to break a long return that has been so elusive for him in 2015.
“Oh, man, I’m so ready for it and I feel like it’s coming. I hope it’s this week. Each and every week, I hope it’s that week,” he said. “This week could be a good week because it’s the next week. I’m going to do everything I can to go out there and get a big one, no matter if I get a touchdown, to midfield or the 30 or 40 – anything over the 20 is good for us.”
Despite the struggles of the kickoff return game, the Vikings have the fourth-best starting field position, due in large part to a strong defense forcing the opposition to punt from their side of the field and a good punt-return game from Marcus Sherels, who set the franchise record with his third punt return for a touchdown last Sunday.
When it comes to adjusted starting field position after kickoffs, the Vikings ranked 29th with an average starting position on the 20.6-yard line and getting stopped inside the 20-yard line six times.
So what needs to happen to get the Vikings going in the same direction with the kickoff return game?
“We’re not blocking well enough to be honest with you,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “I think our schemes are pretty good. I would like to change a couple of my calls because I’m pretty hard on myself; I’m my own worst critic so to speak. But at the end of the day we need to block better. He needs to set his returns a little better and he’s got to hit the seam and then stay with the seam. Every return or every play has had something a little bit minute wrong, whether it was the blocking or the way we set the return or maybe it was the scheme against that type of coverage. We’ve got to start putting it together because we need our kickoff return team to get going.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said blocking is the key thing holding back the kickoff returns and called it an “emphasis” this week.
“Just 11 guys coming together, just coming together as a team, as a unit,” Patterson said. “Just go out there and bust out and sell out for each other. I’ve got to do a better job setting it, running harder, and just do what I’ve got to do to get a big return. I know when we get that one big return, our special teams, they’re going to believe in me. We’re going to do everything right from there on out.”
Despite the struggles this year, Patterson is still being told to return what he can in most situations, even if it is deep in the end zone. Hang time, and the time and score of the game, will dictate the rest.
“That’s the only way we’re going to get better and learn and continue to grow and continue to improve on that unit,” Priefer said.
Patterson said the blocking has changed from last year, along with the personnel, but said that’s all part of the NFL and he has to overcome that. Still, his confidence hasn’t waned.
“We feel like there’s always opportunities. Every time I catch the ball I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to go out there and get a good return and help the offense out,” he said. “We haven’t been doing that yet so we’ve got to come together as a unit. It’s not just one guy, it’s all of us so we’ve got to do better with that. Whatever it takes, extra time on film or whatever. We’ve just got to get the job done.”