EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Now that it seems we're past the point of the Minnesota Vikings treating Cordarrelle Patterson with kid gloves, we get a little more information each week about why they felt the need to bring the rookie receiver along slowly earlier this year.
Coach Leslie Frazier said on Nov. 8 the Vikings had gone about as fast as they could with Patterson, whom they drafted in the first round amidst concerns about how quickly he could pick up their offense. Shortly after that, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Patterson had learned enough to play several receiver spots in the Vikings' offense, not just the split end position he'd first learned when the team selected him. And on Monday, Frazier said part of the trouble with using Patterson earlier in the season was the Vikings couldn't disguise what they were trying to do when he got on the field.
"Each time we were getting him in early in the season you could see that we were trying to get him the ball," Frazier said. "We were getting a little bit predictable, you know. He wasn’t getting that many snaps early on, and when he was, people were like, ’84 is in the game.’ We said, ‘Oh, boy that’s not good.’
"As time has gone on, we’ve moved him around to different spots. He’s not just playing the ‘X’ receiver anymore. We played him a lot [Sunday] at the ‘Z’ receiver position so we’ve had to adjust some things but the intent is to get him the ball in space as often as we can and see if he can make plays. And down the field as well, we tried some shots with him [Sunday]. So we want to try to get the ball in his hands and let him try to make plays. But that is the intent."
As excited as the Vikings are about Patterson's talent, the idea that they wouldn't put him on the field because they were concerned about being predictable sounds a bit like classic NFL overthinking to me. But the Vikings eventually had to get to a point where they could use Patterson in the flow of their normal offense, and they seem to be more comfortable doing that now. He played 42 offensive snaps on Sunday, was targeted with a team-high 11 passes and hauled in eight receptions, also a team-high.
Patterson could have had a bigger impact if not for two drops that might have helped the Vikings seal the game. He couldn't haul in a deep ball down the sideline from Christian Ponder with 9:40 left, losing his grip on a pretty well-placed ball as Packers cornerback Davon House shoved him to the ground. And in overtime, Patterson failed to corral a pass in the back of the end zone that would've won the game. House tipped it slightly, but Patterson said he took his focus off the ball for a brief second.
It's all part of the growth process for a rookie receiver, but Patterson's opportunities -- which grew after Jerome Simpson was arrested for drunken driving on Nov. 9 -- don't seem to be going away. It's worth noting that Frazier referred to Patterson on Monday as a "starter." As he matures, it seems possible he could become the Vikings' No. 1 receiver before too long.
"I don’t think the light bulb all of a sudden went on. I just think he’s been growing all along," Frazier said. "The situation with Jerome thrust [Patterson] into a different role. And we’ve tried to. And we were doing this along just to increase what we were doing with him. Now he’s starter and he’s really embraced that opportunity. And we’re continuing to try to find ways to get him the ball. But I think it’s just a process that he’s been a part of over the course of the year."