If there’s a screengrab that captures the Vikings’ frustration level with where Cordarrelle Patterson is at this early stage of his still-salvageable NFL receiving career, it’s an end zone shot from behind the second-team offense during Saturday night’s 20-12 lightning-delayed preseason victory over the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium.
It’s second-and-8 from the Vikings 35-yard line. Shaun Hill is in shotgun formation from the right hash mark. Patterson is the lone receiver to the right.
At the 6:28 mark of the second quarter, Patterson is 10 yards downfield and planting his right foot for a hard cut inside. Hill has looked the safety off, has the football cocked and is looking toward an open spot to the outside.
Click. Freeze. Print.
That’s how an athletically superior former first-round draft pick ends up as a second-team receiver.
Hill threw right. Patterson went left. Interception. And no heads were scratched wondering who went the wrong way.
“Yeah,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “There was a miscommunication.”
Was the wrong route run?
“Probably,” said Zimmer, “if you were a betting man.”
The good news: Patterson is working hard in practice, which still is open to the media, and isn’t pouting, which is huge for a high-profile receiver stuck on the No. 2 offense while trying to return from a low point in his career. The bad news: No one’s quite sure how long it will take to polish Patterson’s raw ability, so, for now at least, he appears to be a role player without much of a role behind Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace and Jarius Wright.
Saturday night’s miscommunication was an example of how things could be different.
Hill’s pass was thrown to an area with faith that Patterson would be there. It was an ugly throw. A floating wobbler that safety Jonathan Dowling had to dive for near the sideline. But it was the kind of throw that a player with an elite combination of size, strength and speed is supposed to fight for and come down with regularly. Even when the safety is 6-3 and physical.
Hill’s initial reaction, captured on television, was understandable. Hill might be the last guy in the league who would come close to showing up a teammate, but even he threw up his arms and shook his head as he left the field.
Patterson is only 24 years old. This is the first time since junior college in Hutchinson, Kan., that he has been in the same offensive system in back-to-back seasons. And it’s Norv Turner’s system, which requires precise conceptual interpretation.
In other words, it ain’t easy and he’s trying. So let’s not give up on the kid just yet.
Meanwhile, thank you, Charles Johnson. You’re becoming a nice proving point for those trying to bring a hint of perspective back to the NFL draft.
The next time you get too lightheaded with giddiness over the next mock draft, try to remember that in 2013, the Packers selected Johnson 216th overall out of Grand Valley State. This transaction took place two days and 187 selections after Patterson was picked.
Saturday, Johnson, who ended up as a starter here via the Browns practice squad a year ago, converted a fourth down. He adjusted to one particularly poor throw to give Teddy Bridgewater a key completion he didn’t earn. And Johnson also reminded us that he’s bigger and stronger than he looks when he caught a perfectly thrown ball with a defender hanging on him in the back of the end zone.
“You talk about that touchdown catch he had with the defensive back all over his shoulders,” Bridgewater said. “He’s a big, physical guy. … He’s a huge threat. A guy that size who can run and he’s very physical also. We like to get him some mismatches. We had one tonight, and it ended up being a touchdown.”
It’s quite possible that Hill could have been saying something similar about that 27-yard ball he threw with 6:28 left in the second quarter. But the ball went one way as the receiver went the other.