ATHENS – Coming out of high school, Natrez Patrick was a highly-touted, 4-star defensive end. The U.S. Army All-American had offers from nearly every major program, including UGA.
Instead of keeping him at defensive end however, Georgia had plans on utilizing Patrick as an outside linebacker. A talented pass-rusher, Patrick could play a hybrid role for the Bulldogs, similar to fellow linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Only Patrick, who played at Mays High School, has excelled on the interior of the defense instead of the exterior. During spring camp, Patrick turned heads at inside linebacker, and backed up his play in practice with a sack and eight tackles in the G-Day Game.
Now the converted defensive end, who was expected to find a spot at outside linebacker, figures to be a key contributor from the inside linebacker position this season.
That’s a lot of transitioning for a college freshman who is still learning how to cope with life on his own.
“Coming from high school it’s just a whole different world,” Patrick said following practice on Wednesday. “Everything from the practices to the meetings, just trying to adapt to the college lifestyle, it’s definitely a big challenge.”
Despite the changes, Patrick still feels comfortable on the football field. He still gets chances to rush the quarterback, and has bought into his coaches, the system, and his fellow linebackers.
“I’m still coming a lot, I’m still blitzing,” he said. “In coach Pruitt’s defense he has guys coming from everywhere, I’m definitely not out of my element.”
When asked if there were any major differences between the outside and inside linebacker positions, Patrick said that he was comfortable playing any role and that his skill sets, and the job asked of him, were essentially the same.
“I think I had a feel for it, I’m basically doing the same thing: taking on blocks, releasing off of blocks,” Patrick said. “It’s not that big of a difference, I’ve just been trying to learn everything so I’m better at it, better at my craft. The coaches know best, and I definitely trust them. Wherever they put me, I’m willing to do it.”
Of course not everything comes naturally. Mike Ekeler, who is entering his second season as the Bulldogs’ inside linebackers coach, has been tasked with replacing two All-SEC players in Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. Two new starters will emerge on the inside, but Patrick believes in Ekeler and trusts that he will have them ready to go.
“I love him,” Patrick said of his coach, who is very high on this group. “He definitely does a great job of teaching everything down to a T. He makes sure you understand it before you go out on to the field and do it.”
With so much competition for the two inside linebacker spots, it would be understandable if tempers occasionally flared between the candidates. Veterans Floyd, Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough were the favorites to take over for Wilson and Herrera entering the spring, but Patrick and UAB-transfer Jake Ganus have made this a very close race. While nobody is ceding an inch, the freshman linebacker noted that the older players have done a great job teaching their younger teammate.
“In our room, everybody who’s been here from Reggie Carter to Tim Kimbrough, even Jake Ganus,” Patrick said. “Everybody is helping me out, our room is just really great at collaborating so we help each other out and just try to get better.”
Now only a few weeks away from Georgia’s first game against Louisiana-Monroe, the time has come for the coaches to start making some decisions regarding their players. After his standout spring game and steady improvement, Patrick was asked if his personal expectations, or the expectations of the coaches, had changed.
“Not at all,” he said. “I just feel like everybody has been working the same, everybody has been progressing the same. They haven’t shown me any extra treatment, the guys in the linebacker room, everybody is getting the same treatment. We’re definitely all getting better as a group.”