FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Mike Zimmer saw Cordarrelle Patterson every day during his first three seasons as the Minnesota Vikings’ coach. He saw his speed up close and what he could do with the ball. There’s never been denying Patterson’s talent or skill set.

Yet Zimmer sees Patterson this season, his first with the New England Patriots, and wonders why the Vikings didn’t use him in a better fashion.

After having 57 touches (receptions combined with carries) as a rookie in 2013, Patterson saw his output wean in and out under Zimmer from 2014-16. The receiver/return man touched the ball on offense 43 times in 2014 and only four times in 2016. In his final season, he finished with a career-high 52 receptions and 59 touches before departing to Oakland.

This season, Patterson hasn’t been as much of a factor as a receiver, with 13 receptions, but has touched the ball on offense 50 times with a career-high 37 carries.

“Quite honestly, they’re using him way better than we did,” Zimmer said. “Cordarrelle’s a great athlete, a very, very strong runner. I think they use him in a number of ways. I mean, it’s good to see for him. I wish we would have used him a little bit better.”

Patterson will meet Zimmer and his former Vikings team Sunday.

The Patriots have used Patterson differently than any of his three previous coaches. Sure, he’s still one of the best kickoff returners in the NFL, but for the first time in his career, he’s being used as a running back.

The move happened out of necessity; the Pats lost Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel at various points. But after having seven carries in the first seven games, Patterson has 30 carries over the last four. In that span he has just two receptions. He made his first career start at running back in Week 8 at Buffalo. He then rushed for a season-high 61 yards in Week 9 against Green Bay.

Over his career, Coach Bill Belichick paid close attention to Patterson. He’s always been impressed with the way he ran and value on special teams.

“We thought we were getting that, that’s what we got and we’ve used him in different ways,” Belichick said. “He’s embraced it, he’s worked hard to learn and accept different roles, and he’s done them well. So he’s been a pleasure to coach, he’s been a great addition to our team and he’s given us a lot of versatility, and times where we’ve really needed him to step in and help us, he has.”

Patterson has 156 rushing yards, two shy of his career best. His 158-yard rush total happened as a rookie in Minnesota, the year before Zimmer took over. With nine more touches, Patterson will have another career high, beating the 59 in 2016. He’s on pace for 80 touches this season.

Patterson, a first-round pick in 2013, never caught on as a receiver with the Vikings or really in the NFL, but it’s clear there’s regret in Minnesota for the way they used him.

“I think they’re getting the ball in his hands quite a bit,” Zimmer said. “He’s an exceptionally hard runner that can make a lot of big plays. He can make guys miss. He gets a lot of yards after contact. And then, whether it’s throwing him the ball or handing him the ball or rocket sweeps or whatever it is, I just think – everybody’s known how talented he was. We obviously knew how talented he was here as well, but we didn’t get him the ball enough.”

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