MINNEAPOLIS -- Maybe Cordarrelle Patterson has received the message. Maybe he's understood what he needs to do to reverse the arc of a season that began with a blockbuster performance in St. Louis and ended with the receiver brooding on the sideline, while a player signed off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad and an undrafted free agent played ahead of him. In case Patterson hasn't grasped the magnitude of what happened during his second season, though, Greg Jennings wants to make sure he does.
"I've told him I want to get with him this offseason, just so he can watch himself on film," Jennings said. "Sometimes, you feel like there's things you're doing that look great, but you may be tipping your hand to different things. He does a lot of things great, but there are some little things he has to tweak in his game, to allow him to be the player we all have the expectation of him being."
For his own future, as well as the proficiency of the Minnesota Vikings' offense and the development of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, it's important that Patterson takes steps to make sure his third season in the league doesn't go the way his second one did. In a year that began with indications the Vikings were going to feature the receiver in their offense, Patterson saw how quickly teams will move on to other options. Right now, he's still got the investment of the Vikings' front office, coach Mike Zimmer and teammates such as Jennings, who have seen Patterson's star potential and want to make sure he realizes it. Without progress in 2015, Patterson might find there aren't as many people in his corner.
His year ended with just 33 catches for 384 yards and one touchdown, and Patterson carried just seven times for 15 yards after his 102-yard rushing performance against St. Louis. He didn't return a kickoff for a touchdown, and lost a fumble on one against the New York Jets. On Sunday, Patterson saw his first action as a wideout at the end of the second quarter when Jarius Wright left the game with a low back injury, and on the first series of the second half, he ran a short comeback route, couldn't hold onto a pass that Bridgewater threw slightly behind him and watched Kyle Fuller intercept the deflected pass, returning it to the Vikings' 9 until Bridgewater tripped him up by the ankles.
"[Bridgewater] had a 90 quarterback rating, and would have been over 100 if the ball wouldn't hit our guy in the chest and bounce out," Zimmer said. Later, when the coach was asked about Patterson specifically, Zimmer took a long pause to gather his thoughts and said, "I've got a plan for this offseason for him, and hopefully it works. But it's going to be up to Cordarrelle. I'll leave it at that."
Patterson left the locker room Sunday before it was opened to the media and was unavailable for comment.
Zimmer has talked about Patterson's route-running on more than one occasion, saying the receiver needs to make sure he's hitting the same depth on all of his routes so Bridgewater knows where to find him. On Sunday, Jennings took it a step further.
"Whether a ball is behind you or in front of you or ahead, it doesn't matter. If I get my hands on it, I have to make that play," Jennings said. "If the defender has a certain leverage, I have to counteract what he's doing to make it right with my quarterback. It's being honest with me; it's not looking at what somebody else didn't do.
"He gets separation, but it's what he does after he gets the separation. It's little things like that. It's something we'll watch together. It's not badgering him, because we all have that maturation process. This is a guy who hadn't played a whole lot of college football at receiver. Of course we have expectations -- I'm not making an excuse for him -- but it's going to take time."
Jennings punctuated his remarks by saying, "As long as I'm here, [Patterson] will not fail. I refuse to allow that to happen, and he has to refuse to allow that to happen." In the end, that's the key for Patterson. It's one thing for so many people to see his ability, to devote themselves to helping Patterson cash in on his talent. But Patterson is hardly the first 6-foot-2 receiver with 4.42 40 speed, and his mastery of the game's minutiae -- of running crisp routes, of baiting defensive backs -- still isn't there.
Right now, Patterson has a general manager who spent three draft picks to get him, an offensive coordinator who worked with Michael Irvin, a receivers coach who worked with Jerry Rice and a teammate who's played with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. He wants to be in Minnesota, Jennings said, and he should; the Vikings have the wherewithal, and the intent, to help Patterson flourish.
But if the receiver doesn't work at it for himself, it won't matter how badly anyone else wants it for him.
"[Wide receivers] coach [George] Stewart always says, 'You don't know, or you don't care,'" Jennings said. "Almost 100 percent of the time, guys know. So that leaves, 'You don't care.' With the little things, you may not want to admit that you don't care. But if you don't put the same effort that you put into everything else, it means you don't care. He definitely wants to learn, but he has to shine."