ATHENS ― Georgia inside linebacker Natrez Patrick is due to return to the field this week. He might not return to a starting spot.
Senior Reggie Carter has played well the last two games, including in the win Saturday over South Carolina. Patrick, meanwhile, has served what is believed to be a four-game suspension after a marijuana-related arrest, so he would be eligible to return Saturday at Auburn.
Coach Kirby Smart was asked Monday how Patrick has handled things and whether he would return to a starting spot, given how Carter has played.
“His discipline will be handled internally like it always is,” Smart said. “He’s been practicing with us the last few weeks. He’ll continue to practice with us. And that competition will continue to go on.”
Smart referring to it being handled “internally” is the same way he had addressed Patrick’s situation before, never directly confirming a suspension.
Patrick was arrested on Oct. 5, two nights before Georgia’s game at Vanderbilt, on two misdemeanor charges, including marijuana possession. It was the second marijuana-related arrest for Patrick at UGA, which invoked the four-game suspension as stipulated in the school’s student-athlete drug policy.
Carter was second on the team in tackles against South Carolina and would seem to have a chance to keep playing a lot of snaps, perhaps even starting. But he spoke about being happy to have Patrick back.
“It’s going to be huge,” Carter said. “When both of us were out, the young guys were doing good. When I came back, the young guys were still doing good. It’s just great to have everybody back, and the young guys with experience under their belt, and having a leader on our defense like Natrez back.”
Junior Juwan Taylor started the ensuing game at Vanderbilt, and freshman Monty Rice started the following week against Missouri. Rice and Taylor shared snaps in those two games. Then Carter returned from a concussion and started the next two games.
Patrick started Georgia’s first five games prior to his suspension and had 17 tackles in those games. As a sophomore last season, Patrick was second on the team with 59 tackles, despite missing the final three regular-season games with a shoulder injury. He also started the final two games of his freshman season in 2015.