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Can Cordarrelle Patterson do more than return kicks in Minnesota?

Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson worked this offseason to improve his route-running and receiving skills. Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's long been established that Cordarrelle Patterson is heading into a pivotal season with the Minnesota Vikings. The wide receiver said as much in February, and the team made it official in May when it decided not to pick up Patterson's fifth-year option.

Patterson remains perhaps the most dangerous kick returner in the NFL, but as his development stagnated as a receiver, the Vikings have turned to other options in their offense, effectively using Patterson only as a return man. After a 2015 season in which he caught just two passes, Patterson spent time working with a route-running coach in Southern California and traveled to Florida to work out with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings' other receivers in April.

The proof of Patterson's progress will come when cornerbacks are allowed to put their hands on him and when there's something more on the line than there is at a set of spring workouts. But as the 25-year-old heads into a contract year, teammates say they can see a difference.

"I don't know if them not picking up his fifth-year option woke him up a little bit or what, but he's going out there and working," Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "He's doing a great job of switching it up on you. Normally, CP, he was just one speed. He'd just come at you full speed. Now, he'll lull you to sleep a little bit, and he'll turn on the burners. It's messing the DBs up a little bit, but at the same time, I told him, 'You're running some great routes. Just keep it up, keep working and then when we get the month of July off, don't backslide. Just keep doing what you're doing and getting better.'"

Whatever the Vikings get from Patterson as a receiver at this point will be a bonus, and with first-round pick Laquon Treadwell on the roster, Patterson will have to fight for playing time if he wants to do more than return kicks. He dropped a pass from Shaun Hill on Wednesday but made some nice catches over the middle last week and has run crisper routes in the two organized team activities open to the media than he has in the past. He'll make more money next year if he can prove himself beyond special teams, and while he said he wants to stay in Minnesota, the Vikings' decision on his option suggests they are preparing for a future without him. Patterson's chances to change that will hinge on his ability to turn his offseason work into actual production during the season.

"I'd love to be here, if the timing's right, but if it's not, I'll take my talent somewhere else," Patterson said. "This is somewhere I've been for three, going on four, years. Why go somewhere else? But if things don't work out, you've got to do what you've got to do."