Mankato – The Vikings have trained in Mankato for 47 years, which means that for many of the past 47 years fans have lined the practice fields in or near Blakeslee Stadium, hoping to see a spectacularly talented receiver interrupt the mundaneness of camp.
They have watched Gene Washington, Sammy White, Ahmad Rashad, Anthony Carter, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin because of their talent or charisma. The player who attracts the eye early in this camp, the receiver who looks as if he’s being broadcast in HD while those around him wade through static, is …
Not Greg Jennings. Jennings immediately became the Vikings’ most-accomplished receiver when he left Green Bay, but he’s not the most physically gifted or imposing receiver on the roster.
Nope, the first guy you notice when you watch a practice this summer is the one wearing Moss’ jersey, Rice’s hair and Cris Carter’s physique while hinting at Harvin’s versatility. In person, first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson is just as fast as he looks on video, and bigger and stronger than you would have imagined.
“If you were going to put together a receiver,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, “he would look like Cordarrelle.”
“When he walks in your room and takes up the doorway, you’re like, ‘Wow, that is a big man,’ ” said Mike Priefer, the Vikings special teams coordinator.
Patterson is listed at 6-2 and 220 pounds. Saturday morning, during a walkthrough practice, he wore his visor upside down and backward, where it supported burnt orange dreadlocks. “I got tired of how my hair looked, so I added a little color,” he said.
The Vikings are hoping he will do the same for their offense. They wouldn’t mind Adrian Peterson rushing for another few thousand yards, but they hope he will do so because of his brilliance, not necessity.
They need Christian Ponder to become a more productive passer, and in Jennings he will for the first time work with a top-flight downfield receiver. Patterson could become the dye to the traditional offense, the sprig of parsley on the plate of meat and potatoes.
“In particular, carrying the football, he’s dynamic,” Frazier said. “He has the vertical speed to get behind defensive backs. That won’t be an issue. That’s going to give us a dimension we didn’t have a year ago.
“But where he’s electric is when you get him the ball on a bubble screen or a reverse or a hitch or a slant. He’s pretty special.”
The Vikings face two challenges with Patterson: getting a player with one year of major college experience to learn an NFL offense, and deciding how, and how much, to use him. He could become the team’s top kickoff returner … and replace Harvin on screens and short pass plays … and become the downfield threat Jerome Simpson was supposed to be last year.
“He’s hungry,” Frazier said. “And I think he’s maturing in some areas. It’s still early, but for these first couple of days, I like what I’m seeing.”
Patterson grew up in Rock Hill, S.C. After becoming a top recruit at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, he said he chose Tennessee “because I wanted to showcase myself with great talent, and Tennessee had the most talent.”
Patterson was standing outside of the Vikings’ locker room after Saturday’s practice. Ponder sneaked up on him and said, “How you doing, CP2?” Patterson explained that Ponder had first claim to the initials.
During a lengthy conversation, Patterson smiled and answered every question graciously. His expression hinted that he had much more interesting things to say than “We have a lot of great receivers here,” and, “Percy Harvin was a great player; we’ve just got to focus on our team right now.”
Priefer said Patterson was one of the two return men he had ranked at the top of the 2013 draft class, along with West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, now with the Rams.
The Vikings aren’t downplaying their plans for Patterson. You could see him returning kicks, taking handoffs, catching short passes and running deep. If they are right about him, he will be paying homage to a number of former Vikings receivers for a number of years.