ATHENS, Ga. — Everyone loves a good comeback, and Georgia really needs a leader in the defensive huddle.
Natrez Patrick, you’re up. The senior linebacker worked his way out of the doghouse and is a candidate to start if cleared to play in the team’s opener at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday against FCS Austin Peay.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Coach Kirby Smart said at the start of fall drills. “I’m proud of the progress he’s made.”
Patrick was suspended both games of the College Football Playoff and served a four-game suspension during the 2017 regular season after an Oct. 5 misdemeanor arrest.
A stay at an inpatient facility during the offseason and the reality of losing his NFL dream seems to have brought Patrick around, and just in time.
“We’re not going to get where we want to go if we don’t have great leadership,” Smart said. “That’s the biggest question about this team: who are going to be the leaders? Who are going to be the guys that demand a lot of each other?”
Patrick, if he can demand enough of himself from a discipline standpoint, has no problem taking charge in the huddle.
“He’s a leader, always been a leader, very vocal, knows this defense in and out,” Georgia nose guard Julian Rochester said. “It’s a blessing to see that number 6 [Patrick] behind us and know he’s got us.”
Junior defensive end David Marshall agreed.
“He means a lot to us,” Marshall said. “He’s a vet, it’s his senior year, he’s our brother”
Sophomore Monty Rice said he has been working at both of the inside linebacker positions, and the competition has been fierce.
“You’ve got Nate McBride, Jayden Hunter, Natrez, JT [Juwan Taylor], Tae Crowder, Channing [Tindall], Quay [Walker],” Rice said, “everybody is competing.”
Smart has seen the team respond to Patrick, and he’s pushing the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder from Atlanta’s Mays High School to have even more of an on-field presence.
“Natrez has always been a good leader,” Smart said. “The biggest thing with Natrez is having the stamina level himself to perform at an SEC level —he has to be able to play 30 plays in a row.”