Jim Mone
June 14, 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) As Mike Zimmer strolled between the pre-practice lines of players stretching at the first session of Minnesota Vikings minicamp, Cordarrelle Patterson had a message for his approaching coach.

''I'm going to get better today,'' Patterson said.

That was the voice of a former first-round draft pick beginning a make-or-break fourth NFL season in his still-fledgling career.

''So that's his focus now,'' Zimmer said, ''but in the past it was maybe not all about that.''

The lanky wide receiver with the long dreadlocks arrived in 2013 with exceptional expectations after the Vikings packaged selections in the second, third, fourth and seventh rounds to take New England's spot and draft Patterson with the 30th overall pick. After he totaled nine touchdowns, averaged 11 yards per touch from scrimmage and as a kickoff returner became only the third Vikings rookie in history bestowed with the Associated Press All-Pro honor, hopes for Patterson soared higher yet.

Over the last season and a half, though, his production could hardly have been lower beyond a couple of kickoff returns for scores last year. The team's decision to decline the fifth-year option on his contract was hardly a surprise. He'll be a free agent after the season.

''That's not my choice and, Minnesota, I've been here for a couple years now,'' Patterson said. ''I would love to stay here if things work out.''

The Vikings drafted Laquon Treadwell in the first round, crowding the competition at the position. Treadwell, Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright aren't going anywhere, Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen have inside tracks for spots on the team and German prospect Moritz Boehringer was added to the mix with a sixth-round pick. Patterson still has his elite kickoff returner card to play in the game of 53-man roster assembly, but that'll only take him so far.

''I can do that in my sleep, but wide receiver? That's something I've got to work on each and every day, man,'' Patterson said. ''I'm just trying to get better at that. When I get that down, I feel like I'll be a dynamic duo.''

The Vikings have been pleased by what they've seen this spring.

''He's not making mental errors. He's running routes at proper depth. He's lining up in the proper place,'' said the notoriously hard-to-please Zimmer.

With post-secondary experience limited to junior college and one season at Tennessee, Patterson had a paltry base of positional knowledge when he arrived and little understanding of the discipline and intensity required to blossom in the NFL.

''When he first got here, and he will tell you this, he had no work ethic,'' wide receivers coach George Stewart said. ''He thought he was working. But he didn't know how to work. When you're a skill athlete like he is, everything was pretty easy. But now you're with the cream of the crop in terms of athletes.''

Last year, Patterson became nearly invisible with the offense. Two catches. Two carries. That was it. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't entrust him with a role, despite the enviable breakaway speed he'd shown as a receiver, rusher and returner as a rookie.

Realizing the importance of versatility beyond simply fielding kickoffs, Patterson has honed in on the vital techniques of route running this offseason.

''It's getting better. It's just a step at a time. It don't happen overnight,'' Patterson said.

Being released can occur that quickly, however, if he doesn't develop into more of a well-rounded player.

''Somebody said it's a make-or-break year. I don't know if it is or not,'' Patterson said after a practice earlier this month. ''I'd love to be here if the timing's right, but if not I'll take my talents somewhere else.''

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