Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) jumps over Houston Texans safety Eddie Pleasant (35) and cornerback Roc Carmichael (22) for extra yardage during Friday's exhibition game in Minneapolis. (AP Photo)
MINNEAPOLIS — Cordarrelle Patterson stood at the back of the end zone and waited for the opening kickoff.
When Houston kicker Randy Bullock couldn't get it deep enough, Patterson snatched it out the air and burst through the line for a 50-yard return. Just like that, the speedy rookie from Tennessee was off and running to an impressive debut.
"I (saw) the touchdown as soon as I caught the ball," Patterson said with a wide smile. "I had great blockers and the thing opened up so big, I wasn't even expecting it to be like that."
Patterson had four catches for 54 yards in addition to that nifty return in the Minnesota Vikings' 27-13 loss to the Texans in the preseason opener on Friday night. In just two quarters of work, he was able to put on display the speed, versatility and ability to run after the catch that made the Vikings pay a hefty price to trade back into the first round in April and grab him.
With Patterson sliding down the draft board in the first round, including past the Vikings twice earlier in the round, general manager Rick Spielman packaged four picks to get back in at No. 29 and take him. Patterson had only one year of major college football experience and was considered a raw prospect that would take some time to develop.
None of that scared Spielman, who saw a dynamic and versatile player with the ability to play in the slot and outside at receiver and also return kicks. After trading Percy Harvin to Seattle, the Vikings were in need of such a player.
"He made some good plays for us," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. "The opening kickoff obviously was a big one and then some of the catches he was able to make on the inside breaking routes, he's shown some ability to break a couple of tackles. So that was very encouraging and something we can definitely build on."
His athleticism has been apparent from the first time he set foot on the practice field, but he has also started to show coaches and teammates in training camp that his learning curve might not be as steep as initially believed.
"He came in and everyone knew he was raw," quarterback Christian Ponder said last week. "Within two weeks we saw a difference during OTAs in what he did. There's still some room for improvement. I think he's made a lot of progress already."
After his big return got things started, Patterson hauled in a 22-yard completion on a square-in where he was able to catch the ball and bounce off a defensive back to pick up a few extra yards. Later in the drive, he caught an 18-yard pass and capped his night with an 11-yard catch near the sideline that required him to tiptoe just before going out of bounds.
"The rookie had a great, great game, man," receiver Jerome Simpson said. "I'm so proud of him, especially coming in your first NFL game with a great kickoff return like that. He caught some great balls out there. Man, he looked really good."
Patterson is the first to say that he has a long way to go, and Ponder said that the young receiver would have to learn that it takes more than just superior athletic gifts to be a success in the NFL.
"The system and what we do, everyone depends on everyone else," Ponder said. "If you don't run a route a certain way, it's going to affect everyone else. We need everybody to be perfect in what they're doing."
Patterson grabbed Vikings fans' attention the day after he was drafted when he chose to wear No. 84, the same number Randy Moss wore during two stints here and a number that is still revered despite the many headaches Moss caused.
But this was the loyal following's first chance to see Patterson on the field, and he didn't disappoint. When asked if there was more to come, he just kept right on smiling.
"You've got to wait and see," Patterson said. "I can't say I'm going to do this or do that. It's going to happen. Just have to look at the film and see all the mistakes I made and just grow off that."
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