A "Flash" in the pan?

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

When Cordarrelle Patterson steps foot on the practice field at training camp, he turns heads. At 6’2″, 216 pounds, he’s one of the more physically imposing receivers on the team, with powerful legs and a stocky upper body reminiscent of a running back. Coupled with his 4.42 speed, Patterson has all of the physical traits to be an excellent wide receiver.

But something’s missing.

Maybe Patterson enjoys the attention he’s receiving, or maybe, he enjoys the fanfare that comes with being a first-round draft pick in the NFL. Whatever the case may be, he hasn’t lived up to the hype created by his phenomenal rookie season, when he caught four touchdown passes, rushed for another three, and led the league in yards per kickoff return. That Pro Bowl performance set the stage for what’s been a disappointing two years since, but Patterson has it in his power to turn his short career around.

Before the start of training camp on Saturday, Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune broke the news that Patterson never worked out with Mike Zimmer’s mysterious mentor. According to Vensel, Patterson “didn’t feel it was necessary” to train with the coach, and instead, worked out with Frank Matrisciano in San Francisco. Matrisciano, dubbed “Hell’s Trainer” by Men’s Health Magazine, put Patterson through a regimen of hill sprints and unorthodox workout routines to improve the third-year receiver’s mental and physical game:

“I feel like this is the best spring I’ve had all throughout my years,” Patterson said. “I’m just working hard, man. I’ve been talking in the past about my work ethic and just trying to get better in my routes. I feel like I’ve improved a lot.”

No matter what Patterson thinks about his development this offseason, he’s still stuck with the second team offense. At the start of training camp, he watched as Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace, and Jarius Wright worked with the first unit and caught balls from Teddy Bridgewater. For a high draft pick like Patterson, losing your starting spot to a former practice squad player like Johnson has to be difficult — and it has to be some motivation to become a better player.

By all accounts, Patterson seems to be getting the message, and is (so far) having a better training camp than he did last year. According to Daniel House at Vikings Corner, Patterson is “adjusting to balls in traffic and has refined his footwork to get open”, and Arif Hasan echoes these sentiments at Daily Norseman. “He certainly seems to be doing a better job generating space for himself than he has in the past,” Arif said. “It is early in training camp, but Patterson looks better than he did at this stage of training camp last year,” Daniel added.

Following these reports and hearing about Patterson’s improved play is a positive sign, but questions remain as the fourth day of training camp wraps up. Because the team has yet to practice in full gear, Patterson hasn’t had to line up against press coverage — a problem for him last year. After today’s practice, we’ll hear more about his ability to create space against a jam, and I’ll be able to see it for myself tomorrow in Mankato.

On Monday, USA Today’s Tom Pelissero sat down with head coach Mike Zimmer, who talked about Patterson’s potential entering his third season in the league. “He’ll have really good days, and then he’ll have some not-so-good days,” Zimmer said. In Zimmer’s own words, Patterson’s biggest issue is consistency — lining up in the correct spot, running the proper route, following blockers through the wedge on kick returns:

“Really, I think what he needs to do is just the consistency every single day and the consistency in studying, the consistency in getting extra help that he needs if he needs it, running the routes the same all the time and understanding that there’s a lot of great athletes that play professional sports, and there’s a lot of great athletes that don’t make it in professional sports because they don’t have the other intangibles.”

Zimmer recognizes that Patterson has the speed, the size, and the athletic ability to be a top-flight receiver. But coming out of Tennessee with such raw talent was a problem for Patterson, who relied on his physical gifts to outrun, out-jump, and outperform the college-level competition. In the NFL, Patterson is no longer the big fish in the little pond who can skate by on his athleticism. He’s a little fish in football’s biggest pond, and he needs to start swimming if he wants to stay afloat with the Vikings.

To end his conversation with Pelissero, Zimmer had one question for Patterson, and it’s the basis for our Poll of the Week:

To me, the biggest thing with him is that: Does he want to be ‘Flash’ or does he want to be a great receiver? I’m not trying to dog him or anything, but that’s really what it is.

Answer the poll below and share your reasoning in the comments section!