EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Not long after learning he had won the NFC special teams player of the week award, Minnesota Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson was talking with coach Leslie Frazier and wondered one thing.
Patterson, who has been every bit the explosive kickoff returner expected, wondered when he might have the chance to make a big enough impact on offense to win the offensive player of the week award.
“You know, just joking around like that,” Patterson said. “My time will come. It will come one day here.”
When his time will come has become one of the more intriguing questions for the Minnesota offense this year. Patterson’s usage — which led Frazier to say it would be “rectified” earlier in the season — remains a work in progress.
His talent has been apparent when he’s had his chances though, which leads to more puzzlement why he isn’t a bigger part of the offensive game plan. Patterson played 15 of the team’s 47 offensive snaps in last week’s loss to Green Bay, which still trailed starters Greg Jennings (38 snaps) and Jerome Simpson (32), but also Jarius Wright (26) and Joe Webb (16). Patterson has 13 catches for 133 yards this season, and hasn’t had more than three catches in a game. On Sunday, he had two catches for 26 yards and drew a big pass interference call.
Frazier said some of the snap distribution is because of the roles being asked of the receivers, particularly when Wright or Webb are on the field instead of Patterson. Frazier took Patterson’s inquiry this week and continues to say the rookie receiver’s role will increase.
“We’re continuously bringing him in on offense and we’re going to have some things for him this week as well but we’ll just keep bringing him along. He’s done a good job whenever he’s been on the field on offense. He made some nice plays in the game on Sunday night so we’ve just got to keep bringing him along.”
Patterson’s become one of the league’s most dynamic returners just seven games into his first NFL season after Minnesota made the bold move to trade four draft picks for the right to jump back into the first round of April’s draft to select Patterson No. 29 overall out of Tennessee.
He has already tied the team record for a season with two returns for touchdowns. Patterson equaled the two touchdowns Percy Harvin had on returns in 2009 and is the only player in the NFL this season with two returns for touchdowns. Patterson was named the NFC special teams player of the month for September and won this week’s special teams award after five attempts for 228 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
He leads the league this season with a 39.1-yard kickoff return average. Harvin, who was traded in the offseason, led the league in returns last year when with a 35.9-yard average before he missed the season’s final seven games. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Patterson is bigger than Harvin, but they have some similar skills.
“Percy was maybe a little bit more explosive once he hit the seam, I think Cordarrelle has got great vision and both have great long speed, as well,” Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “And they’re both tough, guys are bouncing off them. Both of them are very similar; different body types, but very similar type returners.”
Patterson has the green light to return nearly any kick, as evidenced by his NFL record-setting 109-yard return for a touchdown to open last week’s game. Coaches want him to be smart about the game situation when he’s returning, but they don’t want to limit Patterson on returns, either.
“In terms of trying to make him a productive player, continue to be a productive player, we’ve got to give him a green light,” Priefer said.
Patterson wants the green light on offense, too.
Jerome Simpson is averaging 15.6 yards per reception this season, which is one reason Patterson hasn’t received as much exposure. But the coaches have talked about getting Simpson and Patterson on the field together.
“Part of it is how well Jerome has played at the same position,” Frazier said of the limits on Patterson. “You can see at times we’ve already begun to try to get both on the field at the same time. But that requires a different learning when you put them at different positions. You’ve got both guys that play the ‘X’ position at wide receiver in this offense and Jerome has played very well for us this season and that has been a part of it.”
Minnesota says he will be on the field more offensively as the season goes on. One hindrance the past few weeks has been the inability to sustain drives on offense.
“We do want to get into our game plan because we have some packages that we’re excited about, getting both those guys on the field and letting them do their thing,” Musgrave said.
Patterson is excited for any opportunity and believes he and Simpson can co-exist together.
“It’s good to have two big guys out there running down the field at the same time,” Patterson said. “We feel like we’d be unstoppable if both of us were on the field at the same time, but it’s kind of good to have us both out there.”
Meanwhile, Patterson says he’s patient waiting for his time and playing behind Simpson. And when he gets his chance, he knows he’ll capitalize and maybe one day earn one of those offensive awards.
“You got to be confident in yourself,” Patterson said. “If you don’t be confident in yourself, who’s going to be confident for you? I just keep that mindset every day.”