Tennessee's final day of practice at Milligan College
ELIZABETHTON — In the early days of camp, Cordarrelle Patterson stood out by gliding around the field and making graceful catches. Now he stands out because he wears a garish red jersey.
Patterson, a celebrated junior college receiver who coaches hope can make an immediate impact on Tennessee's offense, spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since his arrival this summer. He made two points clear:
First, his name's pronounced cor-DARE-uhl, although he's happy to go by "C.P."
Second, he plans to ditch the red non-contact jersey as soon as possible.
"Oh, I'm trying to get out of it by tomorrow," he said. "I was telling the trainers, 'There's no use in me having this, because people are still trying to hit you.' "
A sprained shoulder has kept Patterson in red and prevented him from sustaining the most punishing hits from defensive backs, but it hasn't stopped him from catching passes or preparing mentally for what he hopes will be an important role alongside veterans Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter.
"He's not 100 percent, but he's getting there," said coach Derek Dooley. "The last couple of practices, you noticed him. The first 10 or so, he was just swimming. It's just learning how to play fast, and it's hard to play fast when you're not sure what to do."
Playing fast — that is, playing instinctively and naturally rather than pausing to process information — has been Patterson's toughest adjustment from junior college.
"The first couple days there was just so much going at me. I didn't understand a lot," Patterson said. "I'm listening more. I'm paying attention to Justin and Da'Rick. It's just coming slowly."
Patterson prepped at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., where he was teammates with current UT backup quarterback Justin Worley. Patterson never qualified academically and never formally committed to a college.
He went to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, where he put up numbers that only raised his recruiting profile. He was the Jayhawk Conference offensive player of the year in 2011 after catching 61 passes for 924 yards and 15 touchdowns. Two of the major recruiting services rated him a five-star prospect.
Patterson took visits to Auburn, Georgia Ole Miss and LSU in addition to Tennessee, but settled on the Vols in a decision that wasn't announced until National Signing Day.
He was recruited by receivers coach Darin Hinshaw, one of two holdovers from last year's staff, who is now tasked with getting him ready for the season.
"His understanding of the offense has gotten a lot better," Hinshaw said. "He's an older newcomer, coming in as a junior, so he has more maturity and he's learning at a higher rate. He understands football really well."
Even so, the complexities of coordinator Jim Chaney's offense have proved challenging. Patterson said he was used to looking at a wristband, but now has to memorize sideline signals.
Dooley said Patterson's natural talent is a given, but getting him ready to contribute at this level requires more than that.
"It's a big difference going out there and saying, 'You against him' and it's a fade or a slant. If the game was always like that it would be real easy," Dooley said. "The challenge for him is learning the offense, learning how to recognize coverages and adapting to what they do to stop him.
"We have to do a good job as coaches to bring him along and keep him in the mix without overwhelming him. That's going to be the challenge."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.