EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota — Minnesota wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's playing time has dwindled to the point where he had only three snaps with the offense in the last game.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner confirmed the obvious Thursday when he said Charles Johnson has replaced Patterson as the starter at the "X'' position once commonly known as the split end.
Still, such a statement of demotion was a startling development in a season that began with so much promise for the former first-round draft pick.
"We're going to do what we can to get him some opportunities to play there," Turner said, "but C.J. is playing at a real high level right now."
That doesn't mean Patterson won't still see meaningful action as a wide receiver over the remaining four games. Coach Mike Zimmer said he's been pleased by the way Patterson has performed in practice this week.
"He's busting his rear end. He's doing everything good, so I'm hopeful that he does some good things in this game," Zimmer said.
Patterson has 30 catches for 350 yards and one touchdown in 12 games this year. After rushing for 102 yards in the season opener, he has gained just 11 yards on five carries. As a rookie, Patterson led the NFL in kickoff returning. He had four runbacks of 50-plus yards including two touchdowns that started in his own end zone, but this year his longest is 49 yards.
"Every receiver, they want the ball and they want to play and our opportunities, they get low sometimes," Patterson said. "You've just got to be the better person. Just don't take it too personally."
Turner said he sees Patterson "being a big-time player in this offense" moving forward, but clearly the 6-foot-2, 220-pound speedster who played only one season at Tennessee after transferring from junior college has not progressed as a route runner the way the Vikings have wanted. This is also his fourth offensive system in four years.
Patterson missed most of last week to attend an out-of-town funeral, so Turner and Zimmer didn't feel comfortable giving him much time on the field. They also only ran 48 plays against Carolina and called 24 runs. Zimmer has repeatedly said he's a fan of Patterson and confident he'll blossom into a good player, though.
"Me and coach Zimmer, we got a good chemistry. People, they don't believe it. It's tough love. We don't show it, but we have our little talks," Patterson said.
He said he hadn't yet sought the coaches out to specifically discuss his usage.
"Next week, if I feel like my reps ain't where I need it to be or I'm not feeling good about it, I have to sit down and talk with them," Patterson said.
Meanwhile, Johnson has 11 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown over the last three games.
"It's cool to get your name and go out there on the first play, but what does it really mean?" he said, downplaying his ascension to the starting lineup. "We all work together. We're all a unit."
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