(Curtis Compton/AJC)
Senior linebacker Natrez Patrick (6) teams up with safety J.R. Reed to bring down South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel this past Saturday in Columbia.

LB Natrez Patrick explains that ‘Savage’ thing Georgia’s defense has going

ATHENS — One of the great things about getting some interview time with Natrez Patrick is you always learn something new when you talk to him. Like Tuesday, when the senior linebacker spoke after Georgia’s practice.

It was then that we were informed that the whole “Savage” theme that we’re seeing with the Georgia defense —  you know, the spike golden shoulder pads for turnovers, the famous catchphrase for the heralded 2016 recruiting class — that all started with the inside linebackers, according to Patrick.

Natrez Patrick has been all smiles since getting back on the field for the Bulldogs this fall. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Patrick was answering a reporter, who asked if the outside linebackers were “The Wolf Pack,” then what are the inside guys.

“We’re ‘Savages,'” Patrick answered emphatically. “Savages, baby. We trademarked it, but we’ll spread the wealth with the rest of the defense.”

Patrick went on to say that the inside linebackers staked a claim to that tag way before the 2016 recruits adopted it and the entire defense took it over last year.

“Since we’ve been here,” Patrick said, referring to himself and the other seniors who arrived in 2015. “It dates back to Ryne Rankin and Tim Kimbrough. (Others) just kind of ran off with it. But that’s OK. We’ll just kind of lease it out.”

This was not Patrick’s purpose Tuesday, to explain the derivation of the Savage nickname for the Bulldogs’ defense. He was there as a spokesperson for a Georgia unit that currently sits near the top of the SEC in total yards (244 a game) and points per game (8.5). He was there to talk about the challenges that the Bulldogs will face from Middle Tennessee State and its particular brand of pass-happy, spread offense.

And he got around to that eventually. But he was having fun reciting the history of the Savage moniker for the Georgia defense.

“It had to stem from somewhere, you know,” Patrick explained. “It stems from the inside (linebackers) room. It’s just a thing that we play with. The coaches we have, Coach Schu (linebackers coach Glenn Schumann) and Coach Smart, everybody, they tell us, ‘you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t physical; you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t blessed physically.’ So we just tried to kick that up a notch. So we’re savages, rather just being physical.”

Patrick then fielded the natural follow-up question to that. If you were animal, what animal would the inside linebackers be?

“We’ll be some Tasmanian Devils,” he said without hesitation. “You can’t control them.”

Everybody had a nice laugh. The fact is, Georgia’s inside linebackers are playing very well so far. It’s only two games in, but all the questions about “Life After Roquan” seem to have subsided.

So, too, have the ones about if and when Patrick might be available this season. The subject of two separates suspensions last year that encompassed a total of six games and one other earlier in his career, Patrick is not only participating with the team, but acting as the leader of the inside linebackers.

“Natrez is a vocal leader; he’s been a vocal leader for two years now,” coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s a kid who loves the game. Passionate about it. Similar to Led (Jonathan Ledbetter) in that he practices really hard, and he’s not afraid to speak up. He doesn’t worry about what other people think about him and things like that. So he’s done a good job commanding respect from his teammates as far as the way he practices.”

Patrick returned to the starting lineup against South Carolina this past weekend. It was his first start since the SEC Championship Game last December. He had four tackles and a tackle for loss in the 41-17 win over the Gamecocks. He did not record any statistics in the opener.

But while Patrick starting, he’s playing much less overall than he did a year ago. He’s one part of a four-man rotation that includes senior Juwan Taylor, junior Tae Crowder and sophomore Monty Rice. Together they’re getting the job done while no one of them is logging an extraordinary number of snaps the way Roquan Smith did last season.

“They all complement each other, so our ability to play all four of them helps keep them fresh,” Smart said. “I thought Natrez made a couple of plays Saturday that he might not have made had he not just come from the sideline. They’re able to go four or five plays, then come back in (to sideline), so you’re seeing max effort. I think sometimes at the linebacker position you see guys play too long, get tired. so those four guys have rolled and done a good job.”

Patrick concurred. “It’s not too bad when you get a blow.”

Taylor, a fellow senior inside ‘backer, has also taken on a leadership role with the position group. Smart was complimentary of him as well on Tuesday.

“Definitely of the linebacker unit he’s the hardest-practicing kid on our total defense,” Smart said. “He gets immediate respect from the way he practices, and he is a vocal leader. He’s taken much more of a leadership role. It was important to Juwan to do that.”

But as demonstrated during his 12-minute exchange with media after Tuesday’s practice, Patrick remains the heart and soul of that group. Clearly he is feeling free and loose with his past transgressions fading in the rear and the Bulldogs’ lofty goals of 2018 starting to come into view.

“I just feel like it’s time to be a leader now,” Patrick said. “It’s my senior year and guys are looking up to us for guidance, ‘us’ being the seniors. So I’m just accepting that role.”

And handling it like a Savage, one might add.

Following is a video of Patrick’s entire 12-minute exchange with reporters, courtesy of Bulldawg Illustrated.

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