Georgia’s Kirby Smart weighs in on availability of Natrez Patrick, Deangelo Gibbs

Georgia football-J.R. Reed at SEC Media Days-Deangelo Gibbs and Natrez Patrick
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Georgia won the SEC Championship and played in the national championship game on Jan. 8, makes for a fitting backdrop as J.R. Reed is interviewed on the sixth floor pool deck at The Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Tuesday.

ATLANTA — To hear their teammates talk about them, Deangelo Gibbs and Natrez Patrick are fully reinstated and set to play in Georgia’s first game this season. But Terry Godwin, Jonathan Ledbetter and Jonathan Ledbetter aren’t in charge. Kirby Smart is, and the Bulldogs’ head coach is not ready to discuss game availability.

That four-person contingent was representing UGA as the Bulldogs’ took their turn at SEC Football Media Days on Tuesday. Before their turn at the podium in the College Football Hall of Fame, the players and coaches met with the beat corps that covers the team on the sixth floor of The Omni Hotel, where they lodged in Atlanta Monday night.

The players went first, meeting with reporters on the open-air pool deck, fittingly overlooking Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They were, of course, asked about the status of their respective teammates. Patrick, a starting inside linebacker, did not play in the Bulldogs’ last two games of last season after a marijuana-involved police encounter following the SEC Championship Game. Gibbs, former 5-star signee from Grayson, did not play in the Bulldogs’ last seven games of the season, withdrew from school and did not participate in spring drills.

“Yes, sir, he’s back with the team,” junior safety J.R. Reed said of Gibbs, who also happens to be his first cousin. “And he can’t wait to play in a game like the rest of us.”

“Natrez has everything going for him,” said senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, Patrick’s roommate their first two years at Georgia. “He is on the up-and-up now and headed in the right direction. I’m just proud of to see him doing that for himself. He’s working hard and doing the right things and he wants to continue to do the right things.”

Smart, speaking to reporters in a suite down the hall a short time later, appreciated his players weighing in on the matter. But while he confirmed those players are reinstated as members of the team, he’s not ready to discuss player availability.

“They’re making these decisions now? You put them in charge?” Smart said sarcastically when told his players inferred Gibbs and Patrick were fully reinstated. “I will validate that both of those guys are on the team. They’re on the team working with us. But you guys know that. They’re in there working hard and competing and doing a good job for us.”

Asked if that meant they would be available for Georgia’s first game of the season, Smart said, “again, they’re on our team right now and that’s what they’re doing. You can ask them whether they’ll play in the first game, but they’re not the head coach and they’re not going to make that decision.”

Mandatory disciplinary suspensions are unclear in both cases as charges against Patrick actually were dropped and the reasons behind Gibbs benching and withdrawal from school never have been officially confirmed. Gibbs also underwent offseason surgery for a shoulder injury and that has contributed to him being sidelined.

Suffice it to say, the availability of either player significantly enhances Georgia’s defensive prospects this fall.

Patrick is unquestionably one of the Bulldogs’ top 11 defensive players and, as a Mike/Mac inside linebacker plays a position of a great need for Georgia this fall. When on the field, the 6-foot-3, 242-pound senior from Atlanta, has been one of the Bulldogs’ most productive players. As it is, the three-year starter has participated in 30 of Georgia’s 41 games in his career, starting 18 of those. Patrick enters his senior season with 116 career tackles, two sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He had a career-best total of 10 tackles against Tennessee in 2016.

Gibbs was working out with the No. 1 defense at star, or nickelback, as an early enrollee last spring. He dressed for six of Georgia’s first eight games last season but did not record any stats. He did not suit up for the Bulldogs after the Florida game.

Gibbs, a former 6-foot-1, 205-pound former Under Armour All-American, could be a contender to start at nickelback or any of the safety positions for the Bulldogs this fall.

Gibbs has the ultimate mentor in his cousin, Reed. Reed was thought to have been invited to Georgia as a walkon from Tulsa in order to lure Gibbs, an Under Armour All-American, to sign with the Bulldogs. Instead, it has been Reed so far who has not only been a productive starter but has been designated a team leader and spokesman, as his presence at Media Days indicates.

“That’s the reason I have a chip on my shoulder, from guys saying I was only brought in for (Gibbs’) recruitment,” Reed quipped.

As for being designated a a player rep by his head coach, Reed said: “This is something I always wanted to check off my list and I’m just excited to be here,” said Reed, a preseason All-SEC candidate. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder for being passed up since I was little. But that just makes you play harder. If they keep missing on me, fine.”

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