Center Lucas Patrick brings grit — and a winning attitude — to Bears’ offense
The former Packers offensive lineman is eager to turn the Bears-Packers rivalry around after signing a two-year, $8 million contract with the Bears. “I’ve been on the winning side. I’m going to stay on the winning side. We’re going to start winning these games.”
The Packers’ offensive line already was in full makeshift mode against the Bears in Week 6 at Soldier Field last season — with rookies Josh Myers and Royce Newman starting at center and right guard, left guard Jon Runyan making his fifth NFL start and converted guard Billy Turner playing for injured All-Pro right tackle David Bakhtiari.
Four plays into the game, Myers injured his knee and would not return. His replacement was Lucas Patrick, a former undrafted free agent whose limited NFL experience at center included zero starts. It looked like a break for the Bears.
As it turned out, Patrick not only held his own in the impromptu assignment, but he was the Packers’ highest-graded lineman as they rushed for 154 yards and five yards per carry in a 24-14 victory in the infamous “I own you” game.
How much of that kind of performance is a testament to the excellence of the Packers’ coaching staff, the magic of Aaron Rodgers or the ability of Patrick as an underrated, developing player is hard to discern. Every lineman the Packers plug in through injuries and defections seems to excel. And Rodgers, as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, seems to magnify their effectiveness.
Patrick himself will help provide a more definitive answer in 2022 after signing a two-year, $8 million contract ($4 million guaranteed) with the Bears in free agency. Though he has more experience at guard, he said he is slated to play center. That figures to be an upgrade over Sam Mustipher, who started the Bears’ last 24 games and was tendered a one-year contract for 2022 as an exclusive rights free agent.
As a former Packer, the 28-year-old Patrick already was in full Bears mode when he was introduced at a news conference Friday. He was 11-1 against the Bears in his six seasons with the Packers. Patrick’s first NFL start, in fact, was against the Bears in 2017, when an even more makeshift Packers line helped lead the way to a 35-14 victory.
“I’ve been on the winning side. I’m going to stay on the winning side. We’re going to start winning these games,” Patrick said. “I firmly believe to win a Bears-Packers game, you’ve got to be physical. You’ve got to be tough, and that’s what we’re going to do here.
“I feel like whoever wins those games takes the North [division], and like Ryan [new GM Ryan Poles] said, that’s the goal here — take the North, get to the playoffs, get a shot at the Lombardi [Trophy].”
With the Bears, Patrick gets a bigger contract and a better chance to start. He also reunites with Luke Getsy, the Bears’ offensive coordinator who was the Packers’ quarterbacks coach/passing-game coordinator last season. Bears assistant tight ends coach Tim Zests was a Packers offensive quality-control coach.
“I’m very appreciative of the offer I got — it’s amazing financial backing,” said Patrick, who averaged $1.1 million in salary and bonuses in his five seasons on the 53-man roster in Green Bay. “But I love the game of football and these relationships. I want to play football. This opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime, in my opinion. To go from one historic franchise to the history franchise in the NFL, it’s Chicago. It speaks for itself. That was too good to pass up.
“Then you add Getsy. And even coach Zetts — he was in my O-line room last year. Those relationships are awesome to keep. And to build new ones, too, and grow as a person [and] hopefully make some more lifelong friends.”
Poles’ background an an offensive lineman is expected to give him a better read on those positions. But for now, the best endorsement of Patrick is that Rodgers loves him. The Packers’ quarterback has been effusive in his praise of Patrick from the start. He even singled him out after that 2017 game, when Patrick has been on the roster for just five weeks.
“Really proud of Lucas. I’ve kind of been in his corner for a long time,” Rodgers said following that Thursday night game. “ I just enjoy his approach , his attitude, the way he plays.”
Even when Patrick inadvertently snapped the ball to running back Aaron Jones twice as an in-game replacement for starter Corey Linsley in 2019, Rodgers still went out of his way to compliment Patrick.
“I’m proud of Lucas,” he said. “He had a couple wayward snaps but for him to step in like that and play well and be effective was great. I was just telling him how proud I am of him.”
And last season, after Patrick did a yeoman’s job in place of Myers at center against the Bears, Rodgers was effusive in his praise.
“(I) love the kid,” Rodgers said, via reporter Jason Wilde. “I tell him every single time he’s out there that I love going to battle with him because he’s the kind of guy you know is going to have your back and you know is going to be in the right position at all times and doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing — and battle and scrap and claw and fight as hard as he can.”
Patrick is hoping to use that close relationship with Rodgers — and his insight into what makes Rodgers so good — as a benefit with the Bears’ offense.
“There [were] a lot of things he did that I want to bring here,” Patrick said. “One of the biggest things he did was his accountability, understanding game scenarios and bringing those up at any time. Whether it’s a walk-through, OTAs or practice, asking a question on, ‘Hey, what do you do in two-minute when you’ve got this much time, two time outs and you’re on the plus-45? Where’s your head at? Are you thinking out o bounds or are you thinking completion? Mix in a run?’ Just the game-behind-the-game stuff. Just trying to bring as much of that as I can and help with the information that I’ve learned.”