- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the Minnesota Vikings had their first team meeting with new coach Mike Zimmer and his staff in April, Greg Jennings found Cordarrelle Patterson to deliver an updated version of the message he'd sent to receiver throughout his rookie season.
Jennings, who had already been in town and had sat down with Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, quickly got a sense of how prominently Patterson would be featured in the Vikings' offense. He wanted to make sure the electric receiver knew what that required of him.
"I wanted him to know that, coming in, the expectation of you is no longer 'rookie.' It's, 'You gotta go. We saw what you can do. We're gonna showcase this,'" Jennings recalled last week. "For me, it was making sure that he understands that he has to be a professional. He has to be a pro's pro when he steps foot in this building, because we're expecting (him) to give us what we've seen you put out there."
Jennings was asked to mentor Patterson last season, as the Vikings signed him to a five-year deal in March 2013 and spent a first-round pick on Patterson a month later. That relationship will continue in 2014, but a year after Patterson put a spark into the Vikings' offense despite a role that even Jennings believed needed to be bigger, there seems to be little doubt about how much the Vikings will use Patterson this season.
That might make Patterson, not Jennings, the featured receiver in the Vikings' passing game. But there's plenty for both to gain if Patterson can take the next step in his second season.
"Greg told me a lot coming in as a rookie that I have more confidence than anyone he knows," Patterson said earlier this offseason. "I just like to set the tone for myself and my teammates."
Patterson said his work ethic wasn't good enough last year, and Jennings could see lapses as Patterson worked through the grind of a NFL season.
"We all had to learn it," Jennings said. "I had to learn it as a rookie. The best way to learn it is, not so much by someone telling you, but it's by watching someone who does it. It didn't have to be me; it could have been (Jerome) Simpson, it could have been Jarius (Wright). It could have been Rudy (tight end Kyle Rudolph). The little, 'I don't really feel like getting it done today,' it's not going to fly. There's going to be days you feel like that. But when you come out here, nobody cares about that. Once you set that bar, you have to reach that or exceed it every single day.
"As a rookie, not being given a whole lot of opportunities and then coming on strong at the end of the year, the expectation of Eight-Four went to another level. I'm going to be honest: Once I saw him make a couple plays, I'm like, 'We've got to get him the ball. He does too much well for us not to get him the ball.'"
Jennings said he recently invited Patterson and the rest of the Vikings' younger receivers over to his house for the first time -- "They're giving me a hard time, saying, 'Oh, now we just get to come over for the first time? I said, 'Man, I've got kids. I've got to feel you guys out,'" Jennings said -- and many of the receivers in the group stand to benefit from working well together in an offense that should have many more opportunities than wideouts saw in former coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme.
Turner said last week that deep threats such as Simpson have typically averaged 18-20 yards per catch in his offense, and the spacing of Turner's attack should create room for Jennings, who did some of his best work over the middle during his time with the Green Bay Packers. There's plenty to go around, and as Jennings knows, Patterson has the ability to unlock plenty of favorable matchups for the rest of the Vikings' receivers because of how much attention he figures to command.
"If I'm having success, it's going to open up the door for success for other guys," Jennings said. "If Cordarrelle's having success, it's going to open up the door for a lot of other guys, as well."
2hEric D. Williams