Natrez Patrick is energetic. Which makes sense. He’s got a lot to prove to NFL scouts and executives, and he knows it. Getting prepared to prove his doubters wrong is, from the sound of it, a full-time job.
I caught up with the former Bulldog linebacker recently as he got in from another day of pre-Combine workouts. “I got up there about 9:00 today, we had a little position work, then into combine training, then into the weight room. So it’s a pretty long day.”
He works with a position coach on linebacker-specific drills two to three times a week, which should tell you something about the rigor of preparing for the NFL Draft. Natrez Patrick is not a novice to the linebacker position. He came out of Mays High School as a four star prospect in the 2014 class, one of the more gifted pass rushers in a class deep with them. The 6’3, 242 pounder played in all 14 games for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2018, starting 8 of them. He rang up 44 tackles along the way. In the process he proved himself to teammates, demonstrated that he could be relied upon.
It wasn’t always like that. There was a time when it looked like Natrez Patrick’s college football career would be over before it could really get started. He was suspended twice for drug-related issues during his time in Athens, and at one point following a third marijuana-related incident (a traffic stop for which all charges were later dropped), he spent time in inpatient rehab to get a handle on his addiction. Natrez Patrick entered his senior season knowing he only had one more chance. It was the only one he needed.
“I’ve done a lot of growing up” he confides. I’ve had my ups and downs, and I felt like the biggest thing I gained at UGA was becoming a man. Growing up. That’s definitely helped me in this process.”
The result of Patrick’s maturation was that solid senior season, a campaign that saw him emerge as a steady force in the middle of the Red and Black defense. But despite putting up solid numbers in the SEC Patrick knows what he has to prove to hear his name called in April. “I’m just trying to become more explosive, to show that i can really run, have a good 40, come out of my breaks.”
“I’m one of the bigger linebackers in today’s game. I know that the game is changing” he concedes, “but I bring an element of physicality at the point of attack in terms of getting off blocks. But I can play in space. I feel like I can bring a different dimension at a different size.” Natrez came out of the season in the 242 pound range, but says as part of his effort to showcase his quickness he plans to run at the NFL Combine and hopes to do so at “no higher than 235 [pounds]”. He’s solidly on track to reach that objective, currently tipping the scales at 237 pounds.
“I’m making strides” he laughs. “A lot of it quite frankly is passing the ‘eye test’. You hear from coaches and GMs and guys in the league that they do want you to look a certain way.”
Patrick’s spoken with former teammates like Roquan Smith, Sony Michel, and Lorenzo Carter about their experience with the 2018 NFL draft and the timing of being in optimal shape for the draft. But he’s also talked to veteran NFL Bulldogs like Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd about what it takes to make it in the NFL. “Those guys went through this process, and they’re always willing to listen to you, to hear you out, to give you good advice on what to do and what not to do.”
The Combine, Pro Day, team interviews, all are part of a months long sales pitch to potential future employers, and Natrez Patrick like all good salesmen can boil his pitch down to a single sentence: “With me they’re getting leadership, someone who’s not afraid to confront physical adversity, and who’s willing to do anything to better the team.”
What advice does Natrez have for those freshmen currently working through their first few days of mat drills, dreaming about one day moving on to the pros? Well, it’s actually pretty good advice for everyone, even non-elite athletes.
“Stay hydrated” he chuckles. “My first couple of workouts were tough. It’s so different, the intensity level, from high school where you were the big man on campus and everything comes easy to you. When you get to the college level you find that everyone here is just as intense as you, just as good as you. It raises the intensity level of those workouts, the competition.”
“Usually the freshmen competing with those seniors don’t have the off-field aspect of it yet. I’ve got to hydrate and recover. I remember [last year] guys like Quay Walker and Channing Tindall just locking up. You got to hydrate before you go through those workouts.”
Speaking of those younger Bulldogs, Patrick has some ideas about who will help replace he, Juwan Taylor, D’Andre Walker, and Keyon Richardson, all seniors who take with them a lot of playing time. Asked to name a Bulldog linebacker he expects to take a step forward in 2019, Patrick names one who started to make waves in the latter part of the 2018 season.
“Tae Crowder” he says without hesitation. “He really turned it on this year. I feel like now he’s really hungry and he knows what he’s capable of, but he hasn’t reached his ceiling.”
“But also some of the younger guys. Nate McBride, Jaden Hunter, some guys who really have been contributing on special teams. Coach [Glenn Schumann] likes to have that four man rotation . . . and I feel like those are a couple of guys with their work ethic, and how much better they want to be, you’ll probably see way more of them this year.”
There’s no doubt in my mind Natrez Patrick has matured into a man who can handle all aspects of NFL football. When you talk to those around the Georgia football program you get that sense as well. He’s got the physical gifts that are the table stakes to make it into an NFL training camp. But during his time in Athens, and especially in the last year, you get the sense that Patrick has honed the work habits and the discipline that are essential to staying in the league. Until later . . .