KNOXVILLE -- Cordarrelle Patterson typically stands near his own goal line, roughly 65 yards from where the football rests on a tee, and motions for the player lining up to kick it in his vicinity.
Whether the ball ends up in his hands isn't in his hands, but Tennessee's kick returner is hoping his confident gesture increases those odds.
"I just try to tell the kicker to kick it to me," the junior receiver said with a grin Tuesday morning.
It's in the Volunteers' best interests that the opposing kickers listen. The junior college transfer ranks second nationally and first in the Southeastern Conference in yards per kickoff return (34.8) and made a dazzling 98-yard return against Mississippi State.
His returns of 45 and 36 yards against top-ranked Alabama were bright spots on an otherwise grim night at Neyland Stadium. One of those set up the Vols' lone touchdown.
"I'm sure teams are going to start kicking away from him," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "We were doing some things back there to try to read the kicker, and we were pretty successful getting him the ball last week. I was a little concerned going into last week.
"We try to give them some indications back there and read it on the run to get the ball in his hands."
Getting the ball into Patterson's hands doesn't means he's automatically returning it. He said if he fields the ball 4 or 5 yards or more in the end zone he's told to take a knee for a touchback and give the offense possession at the 25-yard line. Given his game-breaking ability, Tennessee might want to reconsider those parameters and allow Patterson to do what he does.
His 10-yard loss turned 34-yard field-reversing run against Mississippi State provides proof, as does just about every other time he's touched the ball this season. He's second in the SEC in all-purpose yardage. He's scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning this season and shown a rare blend of vision and speed combined with a shiftiness uncommon of 6-foot-3, 205-pound wideouts.
Alabama freshman tailback Kenyan Drake got an up-close view of those skills when Patterson juked him on the 36-yard third-quarter return.
"My attempt to tackle number 84 for Tennessee on that kickoff probably the funniest thing I've watched myself do on film," Drake wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday. "It wasn't pretty."
As comfortable as he is with the ball in his hands, Patterson is just as uncomfortable when he fields a kickoff too deep for him to return
"It was pretty tough," Patterson said of those end-zone kneel-downs. "I was trying to tell Devrin [Young] to let me take it out and see where I can go with it. He just tells me to stay, so I just listen to him."
Patterson might find it harder to listen to fellow returner Young on Saturday, when the South Carolina native faces the home-state 17th-ranked Gamecocks in Columbia. He'll have a larger contingent than usual making the 90-minute drive down Interstate 77 from Rock Hill. He played at Northwestern High School with Justin Worley, Tennessee's backup quarterback, for three seasons.
"I'm ready to experience that," Patterson said.
The Vols are ready for him to continue to take steps as a receiver. He's raw and learning the ins and outs of playing the position. There remains plenty of room for improvement, specifically route-running, beating press coverage and reading defenses.
A sloppy slant route on a first-quarter third down that led to an incompletion against Alabama evidenced Patterson's learning curve.
"This will be an important week for him to progress, because these guys have probably the most disruptive front four in the league, especially from a pass-rush standpoint," Dooley said of South Carolina's defense, which boasts an SEC-leading 29 sacks in eight games. "Your routes have to be fast and clean so the quarterback can get rid of it. If it's not, it's either an interception or a sack."
Patterson hopes the Vols continue to find ways to get him the ball. He has lined up at tailback at times the past two games, though he dropped a simple toss against Alabama because he wasn't sure the direction of the play and took his eyes off the ball. The reverses and end-arounds will continue.
Patterson acknowledged that his development as a receiver must do the same.
"I think I've improved a lot, but I still don't think I'm there where I need to be," he said. "Every week I see some things that I can do to just get better at it."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.