Encore at No. 84? Vikings rookie Patterson has work ahead

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2013 - 6:28 AM

As a receivers coach at the University of Washington and later at Tennessee, Charlie Baggett had a go-to recruiting tool, a handy Randy Moss highlight film he’d frequently load up in hopes of generating an adrenaline spike.

Baggett wanted promising young receivers to see the total Moss package — the blazing speed, the freakish body control, the ability to snare passes no one else had a chance to catch.

On top of that, Baggett used the highlights as an entry point to share his experiences coaching Moss with the Vikings from 2000 to ’04. (For what it’s worth, that’s 425 Moss catches, 6,416 yards and 62 touchdowns worth of experience.)

So here’s the crazy thing: A few years back when Baggett took his Moss montage to recruit a 6-3, 205-pound dynamo at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, he was instantly speaking the kid’s language.

Cordarrelle Patterson, it turned out, wore No. 84 as a tribute to his favorite receiver growing up. He always had marveled at Moss’s game-breaking skills and had used his own rare size, speed and athleticism to deliver a junior college YouTube clip that magnetized Baggett and the Volunteers his way.

So, yes, Patterson was receptive to Baggett’s courtship and landed at Tennessee in 2012. And now, as fate would have it, he’s wearing 84 for the Vikings and stimulating the imagination of all those around him.

Now consider this bold proclamation from Baggett: “When you look at just the sheer speed and athleticism, Cordarrelle may have even more explosion than Randy had. Honestly. He’s that special.”

Let your imagination run wild with that endorsement. Then do as Baggett did, take a deep breath and understand the context.

“I don’t want people misinterpreting me as saying Cordarrelle is better or will be better than Randy Moss,” Baggett said. “When it comes to everything else that’s needed to be an elite NFL receiver, he has a long way to go to reach Randy. But he definitely has that ability. He really does.”

So now here’s the puzzle that needs solving: How can the Vikings unlock Patterson’s potential and turn him into a Pro Bowler? How can they take a kid who has so much football to learn and still bring out his strengths at every stage of his education?

More than meets the eye

Eight weeks after the Vikings completed an astonishing draft-night trade, sending four picks to New England to land Patterson with the 29th selection, the consensus at Winter Park is that the rookie receiver has a rare ability to generate excitement — if the right buttons are pushed.

Yet within the organization there’s also recognition that Patterson faces an incredibly steep learning curve. And as minicamp wraps up Thursday, closing a dizzying stretch of offseason orientation, even Patterson acknowledges that the volume of information he has been asked to absorb has been eye-opening.

Just skimming the bulky playbook for the first time proved daunting for a 22-year-old who confesses he spent most of his college career as “that guy slacking in the playbook,” rarely driven to study his craft.

“I never really had time enough to learn and develop all I needed to learn,” he said. “And a lot of times you’re the best one of the field, the biggest, the fastest. You can go off your ability.”

With those admissions and because of his deficits in detailed football knowledge, some NFL teams wrote Patterson off as unmotivated. The Vikings, however, sensed something different and upon playing host to Patterson during their pre-draft Top 30 event in April, receivers coach George Stewart set out to learn what made the kid tick.

“I needed to know what I was getting,” Stewart said.

Stewart knew Patterson carried a label in some circles as “a knucklehead” with a remedial understanding of the game. He was aware of outside criticism that cast Patterson as sometimes arrogant and standoffish.

But Stewart wanted to make his own judgments. So in a one-on-one session, he and Patterson had a heart-to-heart, talking about so much beyond football, instantly creating a bond and a deeper trust that will prove vital to the teaching process.

“Sitting down with so many coaches from other teams, all they wanted to know was about football,” Patterson said. “Coach Stewart already knew I could play, and he already knew what I needed to improve on. So he sat down to get to know me, my family, my personality.”

Taking it slow

The push to draft Patterson was never a blind leap of faith. During the pre-draft process, the Vikings began brainstorming strategies for how to create an optimal learning environment if they were fortunate enough to land the receiver.

It’s no coincidence that Patterson’s Winter Park locker stall is sandwiched between receiver Greg Jennings’ and quarterback Matt Cassel’s. Both veterans already have been, in the rookie’s words, “a huge help.”

And while the coaching staff knows it needs Patterson to get up to speed as soon as possible, it also has been conscious not to dump three gallons of water into a pint glass.

“Everyone learns different,” Patterson said. “Some people take it slower. For me, I don’t like having a lot of stuff thrown at me at one time. Because I start to feel like I’ll never catch up.”

Added Stewart: “It’s like a puzzle. The pieces have to connect. The concepts have to connect. You can’t start that 1,000-piece puzzle with a piece over here, a corner piece over there, another corner piece way out here. Because then none of it makes sense.”

Stewart lauds Patterson’s understanding of the game and has identified him as “a visual conceptual learner” who responds best when shown what to do.

“He can see things,” Stewart said. “His visual conception of things is outstanding. If you talk it to him, it doesn’t click. When you put it on the board, he sees it, he understands it, he lights up.”

The Vikings’ hope is Patterson will be lighting it up weekly come September, quickly emerging as a significant factor in a passing attack that needs so many more big plays.

Yet while the rookie knows the lofty demands from fans will only swell from here, he’s thankful he landed with an organization that’s investing energy in his growth. And he’s constantly reminding himself to run his own race.

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