Cordarrelle Patterson (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)
If Cordarrelle Patterson continues to hold down the top spot among the kick returners, he could get a rest on offense to start drives, just like Percy Harvin did.
The Vikings, and even Cordarrelle Patterson himself, have spent time saying their first-round receiver isn’t another Percy Harvin, although he will be used similarly in various aspects.
One of those similarities will be in how they try to balance Patterson’s workload on offense and special teams.
In previous years, Harvin was one of the league’s best kickoff return men. In 2009-10, the Vikings used him as their main return man. He averaged 25.5 yards in the 82 kickoff returns he had over those first two seasons in the NFL.
In 2011, the Vikings made the conscious effort to reduce the physical wear on Harvin and he returned only 16 kicks in 16 games. Last year, he averaged a career-high 35.9 yards on 16 returns, but he lasted only nine games before his season was cut short with by an ankle injury.
One week into training camp, the Vikings have been using Patterson mostly with the second-team offense, with Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings the top two receivers, but that could change in the coming month.
“If he’s a starter on offense and he becomes a starter, or when he becomes a starter someday, we’ll have to be smart just like when we had Percy here,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “But our head coach and (offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave, we work together – and better than we did in ’11. Last year we worked better. The way we set it up is if there’s a touchback, then Percy’s in there, the returner-receiver, is in there on first down. If he had a 30-yard return, then he comes off for a play. When you’re smart – I think everybody’s on the same page and I think we have great staff chemistry and that really helps us in that regard.”
Patterson is the leading candidate to become the Vikings’ top kickoff returner, so even if he is considered a starter on offense he could be sitting out on the first play of drives if he attempts a return on the kickoff.
With Harvin, the Vikings had the additional concern about his durability because of his size (5-foot-11, 184 pounds). Patterson, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, has the distinct size advantage over Harvin, who had hip surgery Thursday that is expected to keep him out of action for the Seattle Seahawks for at least a couple months.
“Percy was a little smaller, but he ran like a big man. I don’t think we’re going to change a whole lot what we’re doing schematically,” Priefer said. “There are some things Cordarrelle is a little bit better at than some other returners that we’ve had here or I’ve had in the past. But he’s such a talented young man with his size, strength and quickness. He’s got great moves, even for a big man. There’s a lot of things we can do with him and I’m looking forward to tinkering with that as we get going this season.”
The NFL suspended Vikings offensive tackle DeMarcus Love for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. After spending last year on injured reserve (pectoral injury) and 2011 inactive for every game, Love was clearly on the roster bubble before the suspension was announced. He can still play in the team’s preseason games.
Simpson has also been taking some turns as a kick and punt returner, but that’s just mainly as insurance if anything were to happen to the top returners during the regular season.
Priefer on top punt returner Marcus Sherels: “He’s catching the ball better than maybe anybody I’ve ever been around. … He’s fearless. For a little man to be that fearless is rare.”
While Cullen Loeffler has been entrenched as the Vikings’ long snapper since signing with the team in 2004, LB Audie Cole and TE Colin Anderson are among the backup long snapping options. However, Jared Allen remains the top backup to Loeffler for now.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.