EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For so long, Cordarrelle Patterson could dominate on the football field simply with his talent and athleticism.
Patterson toyed with the competition in junior college and didn’t miss a beat at Tennessee in his one year of major college football. The NFL didn’t even seem to bother the Minnesota Vikings rookie much last season.
Heading into the offseason, Patterson had an All-Pro rookie season as a kickoff returner and an expanding role in Minnesota’s offense from which to build. Patterson couldn’t be faulted for enjoying himself in the offseason after the whirlwind year that included getting drafted in the first round by Minnesota and ended by playing in the Pro Bowl.
Patterson didn’t rest on his laurels. A bit of blunt self-scouting led him to a sobering realization.
"Last year, coming in as a rookie, you really don’t know what to expect," Patterson said. "I don’t think my work ethic was good enough last year. This year my whole mindset is remember everything, do better than you did last year, I think I was kind of bad last year, this year will be way better."
Badness, like beauty, must be in the eye of the beholder.
Patterson led the NFL with a 32.4-yard average on kickoff returns, scoring two touchdowns in the process, including an NFL-record-tying, 109-yard return.
Where Patterson seems harshest about his development is within the offense, which was slow to come at times in his first season. However, he progressed as the year went on and finished with 45 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns, adding 12 carries for 158 rushing yards and another three touchdowns.
Still, Patterson became his harshest critic.
"You got to do it yourself," Patterson said. "I was looking at film of me last year, looking at how I didn’t finish. This year, coach (Mike) Zimmer set the tempo high yesterday. My work ethic from last year to this offseason has improved."
Patterson’s biggest focus is the mental approach to the game.
"Just my knowledge," Patterson said. "I want to come in totally different this year with my knowledge. I want to learn everything this year. Last year I was just playing ‘X’ (receiver position) and I want to play everything this year so if Coach needs me, if someone goes down, I can be that guy."
The complexities in new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense make the learning curve steeper in his second year. For the fourth straight season, Patterson is dealing with a different coaching staff, different terminology.
Patterson knew more would be expected of him, as well. At the Pro Bowl, he spoke with Josh Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards under Turner last year in Cleveland.
"He was telling me, ‘my coach is going to get you the football, not just you, everybody on your team — running back, tight end — everybody is going to get the ball,’" Patterson recalled.
Turner has also made the Patterson-Gordon connection. On the first play during team drills in the afternoon of Wednesday’s minicamp, Patterson took a reverse.
The multi-talented Patterson opens up many options for Turner, who is still trying to diagnose what Patterson can do.
"I think you’ve always got to hold that judgment in terms of how a guy handles it," Turner said. "We’ve had guys who have been very productive players, extremely outstanding players I would say, and they lined up and played one position. We’ve had a bunch of other guys we’ve moved around. We’ve moved Cordarrelle around quite a bit this week and he seemed to handle it pretty well, so we’ll see how much he can handle."
Patterson is confident he can handle anything. He’s putting in the work to make sure he’s able to handle what Turner has in store.
"He’s been working his butt off these past three weeks," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "He’s been asking a lot of questions with us, trying to put in more time to study. He knows this is a lot of offense and he’s going to be a key part of it, so he’s trying to do the best he can to gain knowledge of what he’s doing and so far he’s done a great job."
Patterson said he’s come back bigger too. He’s putting in the physical and mental work to go with his natural gifts.
"I just want to be great," Patterson said. "You always want to be great as a person. I feel like I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself. Greg (Jennings) told me that a lot coming in as a rookie: ‘You’ve got to be more confident than anyone you know.’ I just like to set the tone for myself and my teammates."