EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Cordarrelle Patterson’s talent as a receiver and runner in the draft was rivaled only by Tavon Austin and enticed the Minnesota Vikings to draft Patterson in the first round.
The expectation was Patterson would provide an immediate impact as a returner while developing as a receiver. The expectation was dependent on Patterson getting the ball on kickoff returns.
He didn’t have much of a chance in the season opener and the league is lessening the opportunities for kickoff returners.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” Patterson said. “When I do catch the ball, I try to make the most of it. When they kick it over my head, sometimes I just wish they’d kick it to me. But they’re great kickers and there’s going to be a lot that go over my head so I just got to live with it.”
His first five chances on Sunday against Detroit ended up in touchbacks. Patterson, the excited rookie, didn’t get anxious and frustration wasn’t an issue either.
“I was waiting for him to get frustrated,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “I had my little ‘don’t be frustrated’ talk ready and I didn’t have to use it because he was locked in and he was ready to roll. He just knew that when he gets his opportunities he needs to be ready for them.”
Detroit’s kickoff specialist, punter Sam Martin, did provide chances, albeit risky ones, for Patterson later. Patterson took the final two kickoffs out of the end zone, both from eight yards deep. He went 30 yards on his first return and 24 yards on the second.
Priefer said he wouldn’t fill comfortable with every returner starting out so deep in the end zone. But he doesn’t mind Patterson bringing the kick out from deep, but it depends on the situation.
“We’re not just going to do it just to do it,” Priefer said. “We’re not about stats. We’re about field position and helping our team win games and that’s what it’s all about. We feel that a guy like him, because he is a game changer in our opinion and that’s one of the reasons why we drafted him, that he’s a pretty special guy so hopefully we get him some more opportunities this week.”
Priefer said the Vikings like to be aggressive in the return game.
“My coach, he feels comfortable with me wherever I catch, eight or nine yards deep, to bring it out and he expects me to do good things,” Patterson said.
This week’s opponent, the Chicago Bears, have another returner willing to attack from deep in the end zone in Devin Hester. But the league, by pushing up the kickoff spot and with an influx of strong-legged kickers, is reducing the chances for kickoff returns around the league.
In last week’s games, there were only 47 total returns, an average of 2.93 returns per game. Only 10 returners had two or more returns. Four of those belong to Houston’s Keyshawn Martin, who had four returns for a league-leading 29-yard average. Patterson is second among all returners with more than one return, averaging 27 yards on his two returns.
With opportunities limited, it makes teams want to take advantage of the chances they get.
“You try not to think of it that way but I think it boils down to it,” Priefer said. “We’re going to prepare and plan like we always do, that we’re going to get some opportunities and if they arise, if they come up then great. If not, then you can’t be frustrated, that’s the NFL, that’s the way the League has changed limiting the amount of kickoff returns. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Chicago kicker Robbie Gould had touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs last week, which could mean Patterson ends up with another game of balls going over his head and out of the end zone.
Meanwhile, Patterson works to make an impact offensively too. He played only five snaps last week, catching one pass for 10 yards. Patterson said the back injury which put him on the team’s injury report is no problem and he feels comfortable with the playbook.
“I’m just going into practice every day trying to get better,” Patterson said. “It really don’t matter how many snaps I get. I make the most out of the ones I get.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Patterson will be on the field more going forward and the opportunities were limited with the Vikings’ offense only on the field Sunday for 55 snaps.
“We want to be on the field so we can do it,” Musgrave said. “It’s tough to do it from the sideline.”
Musgrave said Patterson doesn’t need to show him something to earn more playing time and he will find time in different packages, including base personnel and not just in three or four wide receiver sets.
Ponder was in a tough position: Musgrave said the team has to be demanding in what it needs to get out of quarterback Christian Ponder, but said Ponder was put in “tough positions” last week.
Ponder had four turnovers and Musgrave said there are times where Ponder has to give up on a play.
“He definitely was put in some tough positions and that’s part of the art of quarterbacking, is knowing what to do when it’s not there,” Musgrave said. “Christian is a very prideful young man. He never gives up on anything. He’s what you would term as a battler so when a play transpires in which it’s not going to come off as designed, at times he has a tough time swallowing his pride and giving up on the play and ditching it and saying, ‘I’ll come back the next play.’
“He wants to give it every last moment of availability. And that’s what happened the other day instead of ditching it and moving on, trying to make something that really wasn’t there.”
Williams closer to his return: Defensive tackle Kevin Williams practiced again Thursday and looks to be in line to play Sunday. Williams missed Sunday’s game because of a bruised knee.
“So far, so good,” Frazier said. “If everything goes fine tomorrow, I’m looking forward to him playing on Sunday. He’s doing well.”
For Williams, he said waking up Thursday would be a test after practicing for the first time on Wednesday.
“I asked him (Thursday) morning, how did he feel, concerned if he was going to have any swelling or soreness,” Frazier said. “He said, ‘I feel pretty good.’ The only soreness was from the inactivity, not being able to run like he had before. He feels good. So hopefully (Friday) will be the same way.”
Center John Sullivan (knee), right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) and cornerback Josh Robinson (quadriceps) were also limited Thursday. Linebackers Larry Dean (shoulder) and Erin Henderson (heel) and safety Mistral Raymond (shoulder) practiced in full Thursday. Safety Jamarca Sanford was taken off the injury report after being listed as a full participant on Wednesday with a shoulder injury.
Chicago was without defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman on Thursday. Peppers was out with an illness. Tillman, who was limited a day earlier with a knee injury, was out for personal reasons.