First-round castoff Pat­ter­son could be new se­cret weapon for Pa­tri­ots

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Let Cor­dar­relle Pat­ter­son ex­plain the process of ab­sorb­ing the Pa­tri­ots play­book, which has a rep­u­ta­tion in NFL cir­cles as ad­vanced-level stuff.

“There’s go­ing to be some­thing each day that you don’t know and you thought you knew,” Pat­ter­son, a re­cently ob­tained would-be dy­namo in the Pa­tri­ots’ uni­verse, told re­porters dur­ing the mini­camp last week. “You wake up, and it’s some­thing dif­fer­ent. ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’

“You only know what you think you know.”

In an­other time, place and sport, Pat­ter­son might have been tight with Yogi Berra. For now, it’s a mat­ter of con­nect­ing with other leg­ends, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which could de­ter­mine whether this im­mensely tal­ented player emerges as a key X fac­tor for New Eng­land, his third home in three years.

Pat­ter­son, 27, is well es­tab­lished as one of the NFL’s most lethal kick­off-re­turn threats, ev­i­denced by two first­team all-pro selections. He owns the long­est kick-re­turn touch­down in the NFL record book (109 yards). And with a rad­i­cal rule change for kick­offs loom­ing — play­ers cov­er­ing kicks can no longer be­gin with a run­ning start, and space will con­ceiv­ably open up as eight play­ers must be aligned within a zone 15 yards from the kick­off — Belichick might have pulled off a coup in land­ing Pat­ter­son.

“To have a guy like Cor­dar­relle, there’s no­body like that in the league,” Matthew Slater, the spe­cial teams cap­tain and a peren­nial Pro Bowler, told USA TO­DAY. “It’s ex­cit­ing to think about the pos­si­bil­i­ties, but there are no guar­an­tees. We have to lay the foun­da­tion, each and ev­ery day in prac­tice. It’s not just go­ing to hap­pen.”

Belichick has never hid­den his rich ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the flip-the-field im­pact of spe­cial teams. And the value he sees in Pat­ter­son (ob­tained from the Raiders in a deal that in­cluded a swap of late draft picks) is also re­flected with a $3.25 mil­lion cap fig­ure.

Yet for Belichick to strike ultimate gold, Pat­ter­son would also have to carve out a sig­nif­i­cant role within a crowded group of re­ceivers in an of­fense armed by Brady and co­or­di­nated by Josh McDaniels. In five NFL sea­sons, in­clud­ing his first four after the Vik­ings claimed him as a first-round pick from Ten­nessee, Pat­ter­son was un­able to prove him­self as a re­li­able, consistent tar­get de­spite tan­ta­liz­ing flashes that in­clude ex­plo­sive plays in the run game.

Last year with Oak­land, Pat­ter­son scored twice off gadget runs (in­clud­ing a 47-yard jaunt). For his ca­reer, he has six rush­ing TDs, five kick-re­turn TDs and seven re­ceiv­ing TDs — the type of ver­sa­til­ity you’d imag­ine would spin the cre­ative wheel in Belichick’s brain.

That’s why Pat­ter­son, in my opin­ion, is the most in­trigu­ing new player in New Eng­land’s camp, even with the pres­ence of promis­ing first-round run­ning back Sony Michel. Pat­ter­son, who re­mained on the field with Brady, Ju­lian Edel­man and a cou­ple of oth­ers to get ex­tra work for about 10 min­utes after Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice, still has tremen­dous up­side bol­stered by raw tal­ent.

“My film don’t lie,” Pat­ter­son teased. “I can do what­ever I put my mind to. That’s some­thing I’ve been blessed with from the man above since I’ve been born.”

Whether he max­i­mizes his tal­ent will largely de­pend on learn­ing the un­for­giv­ing play­book and gain­ing Brady’s trust, which in turn would force Belichick to find ways to de­ploy him.

Pat­ter­son sounds will­ing to go with the flow, say­ing, “You’ve got to know your role and em­brace it.”

Is he poised to raise the bar on that? “You’ve got to ask Belichick about that,” he said. “I hold my­self ac­count­able for every­thing. Each day, I give it my best.”

And that could lead to op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially with Edel­man fac­ing a fourgame sus­pen­sion.

Belichick typ­i­cally doesn’t of­fer thick com­pli­ments about new play­ers, es­pe­cially at this early stage. Yet after ac­knowl­edg­ing the im­por­tance of the learn­ing curve for Pat­ter­son shortly after the trade in March, he seemed rel­a­tively pleased with this week’s progress.

“All the play­ers that have been here this spring have im­proved and worked hard to make progress,” Belichick said. “He’s cer­tainly in that group. Glad we have him. He’s good to work with. He’s a tal­ented player.”

Which just might add up to a huge re­ward for the Pa­tri­ots.

STEVEN SENNE/AP

Cor­dar­relle Pat­ter­son has twice been an all-pro as a kick re­turner.

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