Cordarrelle Patterson engages with fans during off time at Atlanta Falcons training camp

Michael Rothstein/ESPN

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It happens almost every practice. During a special teams period -- either relating to punts or after the first few reps of kick return, Cordarrelle Patterson walks to the edge of the Atlanta Falcons' practice field, past the S.A.F.E. security guards and up against the thin rope.

The crowd gathers around and the begging, pleading and sometimes screaming begins.

"Patterson, will you sign this?" "CP, take a picture with me?" "Patterson. Patterson. Patterson."

After Patterson had the best year of his NFL career in his first year with the Falcons in 2021 as a do-everything offensive option with 618 rushing yards and six touchdowns along with 548 receiving yards and five more touchdowns, he became a fan favorite.

Not only because of his play on the field but because of things like this off of it. Patterson engages with supporters on a regular basis. Before every game, he plays catch with fans, no matter the team, home and away.

This, though, is new. Stepping away during practice to sign autographs and take photos -- even one where he was holding a baby -- is next level, even for him.

"I think it's the first. I think it's the first," Patterson said. "I'm getting old, man. I don't know."

There is some practical reason for it, too. Patterson, 31, is one of the oldest players on the Falcons. And during periods when he's not doing anything, he wants to keep himself moving.

Sure, he could be doing that on the sidelines with his teammates. But this is training camp. Fans are there. So why not offer them some more interaction?

"It's just, I'm not doing nothing during that period," Patterson said. "So I can sit around getting stiff or walk around and sign autographs. So I choose to sign autographs and stay loose."

It's a brilliant move, both as a different way to keep moving and also to endear himself to fans. He's done it through his social media in the offseason, where he openly campaigned to return to Atlanta when he was a free agent -- a deal that ultimately got done while he was on a beach vacation in March.

Patterson has played in Atlanta like it's a different level of fun for him and mingling with the people who cheer him, make signs about him and support him is one way to do that.