MANKATO, Minn. --
There's a familiar sight in Mankato for
' training camp, a striking player in a purple No. 84 jersey sauntering around the fields at Minnesota State University.
There's the occasional spectacular catch, the excitement when said player plants his foot in the ground to make a move. The new No. 84 looks a bit like the former No. 84 that electrified the Minnesota fans, Randy Moss.
said he isn't trying to be Randy Moss. He's different. But the comparisons aren't easy to escape. Patterson, shorter than Moss but maybe thicker, elicits similar responses from fans, teammates and coaches.
"The word freak; he is a freak," receivers coach George Stewart said this week without prompting. "He's a freak of an athlete."
Of course, Moss earned his "superfreak" label while developing into the league's most dangerous receiver as a rookie. The Vikings' plans for Patterson might be a little less ambitious. He's already been deemed the leading candidate to return kicks by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. His skills as a receiver are still developing but the talent is obvious.
Stewart knows receiving talent when he sees it. He appreciates and knows how to utilize big, athletic receivers. Stewart worked with Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes in San Francisco. He was in Atlanta when Roddy White was drafted and he has been in Minnesota the past six years, which included Moss' short-lived return.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Patterson is his size. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds by the Vikings. Those numbers seem small in comparison when seeing Patterson in person.
"He's bigger than what you think," Stewart says.
"He walks in your room and takes up the doorway," Priefer said. "You're like, 'Wow, that's a big man.'"
Stewart said he loves working with big receivers. From Rice, Owens and Stokes, to White and Moss, he's had his share of tall standouts, with each coming in 6-foot-1 or taller and over 200 pounds.
"And here's another big receiver that's fast, super athletic," Stewart said. "Everything is in front of him. His learning curve is ahead of him because he's a young guy, and he's going to get better."
And Patterson is unlike any receiver the Vikings have had in recent years, or even this season with their revamped receiving corps.
"He's different because he's a 6-foot-3, 226-pound athlete that can run a 4.3 (40-yard dash)," Stewart said. "He's fast like Percy (Harvin). He's big like Joe (Webb). And he's nifty like Greg (Jennings)."
It's Patterson's size that has the Vikings believing he can stand up to the rigors of being the full-time kick returner and receiver, unlike how the team tried to conserve the smaller Harvin in the past.
Minnesota said it doesn't have concern over using Patterson on returns and as a receiver because of his build. But his role as a starting receiver will at least be limited early because he's still learning the position. Patterson has been working behind Jerome Simpson at receiver in practices, but one day is expected to fill the No. 1 receiver role along with his return duties.
Patterson says he enters this season with no grand expectations, like the way Moss took the league by storm in 1998. He said he'll do anything his coaches ask. He plays his part as the rookie, carrying the helmet and shoulder pads of the older receivers and speaking only about improving and learning.
Yet, behind his wide smile, his confidence is apparent. He knows he's talented and he's waiting for the chance to show it.
"I just want the ball in my hands," Patterson said. "I feel like a special person. So once I get that ball in my hands, I feel like there's a lot of things I can do with it."
Patterson was considered raw coming out of Tennessee when Minnesota made the bold move to jump back into the first round to select Patterson in April's draft. The skills and instincts were apparent on tape, but he had just one year of major college football.
"When we saw raw, we talk about not entirely detailed," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "He's got great athletic ability and he's been able to dominate at every level in which he's played. So, we're looking for more attention to detail, being more specific with the jobs we ask him to do."
The Vikings have been pleased with his progress. Coach Leslie Frazier said Patterson has retained more knowledge from the offseason program than the team might have even expected from most rookies. Musgrave said Patterson is more skilled as a pass catcher than first thought, and he's shown good hands early in training camp.
There's no doubting the talent.
"I think in particular carrying the football, he's dynamic with the ball in his hands," Frazier said. "He has the vertical speed to get behind defensive backs, that won't be an issue. That's going to give us an added dimension we didn't have a season ago. But where he's electric is when the ball is in his hands. Whether we're throwing it to him on a bubble or a reverse, or a hitch or a slant, he's pretty special."
Just like another "freak" No. 84 was back in the day.
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