Patterson enters first offseason unsure of Vikings’ offensive future

Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson led the league with a 32.4-yard average on kickoff returns with two touchdowns last year. He was the only player to score multiple touchdowns returning, receiving and rushing.

Jim Mone/Jim Mone/Associated Press

Cordarrelle Patterson’s path to NFL relevance followed the design the Minnesota Vikings seemingly had from the moment they traded four picks to the New England Patriots to draft him No. 29 overall out of Tennessee.

Patterson’s playmaking ability would first manifest itself as a kickoff returner, a 105-yard return for a touchdown in Week 2 among the initial highlights. Considered raw as a receiver by nearly everyone — including Minnesota, apparently — the belief was Patterson would need time to develop as a receiver.

By the end, Patterson was demonstrating unique versatility and game-breaking potential that has him in the running for rookie of the year.

And Patterson might be starting over next season.

With the firing of coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave could be replaced by the new coach. Patterson, who only spent one season of major college football at Tennessee, could be with a new coaching staff in a new system for the third time in as many years.

"It’s going to be difficult," Patterson said of adjusting to a new offense. "Coming in as a rookie, learning an offense and the next year, your head coach gets fired. Maybe other guys will get fired, so it’s going to be a whole new offense. It’s going to be different, but it’s my job. I’m going to pick it up."

Patterson will have a full NFL offseason to learn any potential new system or offensive wrinkles. And after a rookie season in which he caught 45 passes for 469 yards, had 12 rushes for 158 yards and scored seven touchdowns on offense, Patterson could be learning a system partially designed to make use of his talents.

"It really don’t matter how they use me," Patterson said. "I know the head coach and the receivers coach are going to do a great job using me like they did this year. So I know nothing is going to change there, so I’m just ready for the offseason to get ready."

His rookie season was a rare one. He led the league with a 32.4-yard average on kickoff returns with two more touchdowns, and was the only player to score multiple touchdowns returning, receiving and rushing. He established a new Vikings’ record for kickoff return yardage in a season, was named a first-team All-Pro and will be headed to the Pro Bowl.

The Vikings brought him along slowly as a receiver, even though signs pointed to Patterson having an unteachably innate ability with the ball in his hands. He had two or fewer catches in each of his first five games. He went 10 games without more than three catches or 49 receiving yards, despite showing himself as maybe the league’s most dangerous kickoff returner.

All along, the coaches felt good about the way they handled Patterson and his development. He finished the season with a flurry. He had 24 catches for 273 yards in the final six games and caught a touchdown in three of the last four games. He had six total touchdowns over the final five games, three coming on runs of 33 yards or longer.

"Looking back on film, it could have been a better season for me; just the little things, the little mistakes I made," Patterson said. "But next year, hopefully it will be a better season for me.

Vikings season report card

Did he think he could have made a bigger impact earlier on offense?

"That’s kind of hard to say," Patterson said. "You can’t really tell what I could (have done) at the beginning of the year. Everything happens for a reason. It happened so we can’t go back in time. It’s already done."

Part of what’s been done is the firing of Frazier, a head coach Patterson looked up to as a rookie. Patterson said Frazier was "like a father" and it was hard as a rookie to see his coach let go.

The assistant coaches have been retained for now, as Minnesota looks for its next head coach. One who could stay through a transition might be receivers coach George Stewart, who has worked with Patterson the past year, including connecting with him before the draft.

"Oh man, coach Stewart, he’s like a father figure to me," Patterson said. "That’s a guy, I feel like he should be here next year. That’s my coach. I never had a coach like him. He’s one of those coaches you don’t want to leave. I feel like he’s going to be a head coach somewhere. I hope he’s here next year. I feel like he needs to be here."

Patterson is bracing himself for any further changes.

"You can’t say it’s going to be harder and you can’t say it’s going to be tough," Patterson said of possible changes. "The offense we had this year, I liked it a lot. So, I’m going to go into the offseason and probably the whole offense is going to change. It’s going to be kind of difficult, but this is our job. I’ve got to learn a whole new offense so I’m ready for it and I’m prepared."

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