Natrez Patrick likes to help.
After two seasons of being a mentee, he finally feels comfortable as a mentor.
“Man, it feels good to be able to tell someone where to be, knowing the defense a little better, getting the plays down a little better,” said Patrick, a junior linebacker for Georgia. “It’s always good to be able to tell someone where else to be.”
Kirby Smart, entering his second season as Georgia’s head coach, has seen significant improvement from Patrick. This spring, Smart said it has been noticeable how much more vocal Patrick has become for the Bulldogs' defense.
Patrick’s gains, Smart said, have come because of his thick skin.
“He’s not afraid to accept his criticism, or when he doesn’t do something right, he understands that you’re only trying to make him better,” Smart said. “And I really think it’s important as players that when a coach delivers you a message, the message is only trying to benefit you. Don’t take it as criticism. Take it as an opportunity to get better. It’s a challenge. And Natrez has done that.”
Patrick echoed Smart’s assessment, as he has been pleased with his own progress. In every respect, Patrick believes he has become more sound.
“I know where to be,” Patrick said. “I’m more gap-sound. I’m more disciplined. I have more gap discipline. I just feel like I’m becoming a more disciplined all-around linebacker.”
Patrick said the same went for the entire linebacker corps. While Smart has criticized the defense for being too complacent this spring, Patrick says at least among the linebackers, there “haven’t been as many busts.” The linebackers have also cut down on penalties.
“I guess what he’s saying has been applied,” Patrick said. “The defense has become more disciplined.”
But despite tutoring the underclassman linebackers, Patrick admits he’s still an understudy from time to time.
Enter Reggie Carter.
“(There are) times where he puts me in place,” Patrick said of Carter. “He’s on top of a lot of stuff. He’s on top of all of it.”
One day, Patrick hopes to get to that point — and beyond.
The way Patrick sees it, he has “no ceiling.” All he wants to do is to continue improving indefinitely.
“I don’t feel like I (will) ever get to a point where I say, ‘I’m a complete player,’ ” Patrick said.
It’s not as if Patrick has struggled to see the field the past two seasons, either. As a freshman in 2015, he played in 11 games, making two starts. Last season, he saw action in 10 games, earning a starting nod nine times.
Patrick ended last season with 59 tackles, second-most on the team behind fellow linebacker Roquan Smith. Every day, Patrick said, Smith brings out the best in him. In Patrick’s eyes, the only way to get better is through constant competition. And that competition doesn’t end at practice.
After finishing behind Smith in tackles in 2016, Patrick had no problem stating publicly he aims to surpass his teammate this fall.
“Definitely,” Patrick said. “Make sure Roquan sees that.”