Down Could Mean Up For Delaware's Patrick

Former Duke player transferred to Division I-AA and could be third TE taken in NFL draft

March 21, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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Learning a new offense is never an easy thing to do. But try learning five in five seasons.


That was Ben Patrick's reality in college. The former Duke tight end, who spent four years with the Blue Devils before transferring to Delaware for his final year of football, had the unenviable task of grasping a different system every year he took the field.


From the West Coast offense with Duke to a spread offense once he joined the Blue Hens, Patrick may very well hold more unofficial records than any other prospect in this year's NFL draft class.


Aside from the five different offenses he learned, Patrick had five different position coaches, five different coordinators and was voted captain by his teammates at two different schools. He's a likeable and adaptable player, giving him a leg up on many tight ends.


"I think that would show that I have the ability to learn quick because I've done it every spring," Patrick said.


You'd only expect as much from someone who attended Duke. But Patrick's path to the NFL isn't what you'd call normal. After all, his decision to transfer from a BCS school in Duke to an FCS school in Delaware (formerly Division I-AA), a proud member of the Atlantic-10 in football, raised a few eyebrows.  


"When you make a change of that magnitude you're always going to get questions as to what you're doing," Patrick said.


What he did was make a calculated decision based on a number of factors, with academics a strong consideration, and the need to win as important as any.


So Patrick left Duke, but chose a different path - although far from unheard of - in transferring down a level of football. In doing so, he wouldn't have to sit out the 2006 season, which he would have been forced to do had he chosen to transfer to a Division I-A school. So he left Durham behind to head north for a much-needed change of scenery, but not without an appreciation for his time as a Blue Devil.


"It was a unique experience," Patrick said. "Some of the highest of highs and some of the lowest of lows."


The highs were great, like being at one of the best academic schools in the BCS. The lows were bad, like winning a mere seven games in his four years at Duke.


"But I grew as a person and as a football player there, so I'm thankful for that," Patrick said.


He never won more than two games in a season with the Blue Devils and after his fourth year at Duke - he redshirted his freshman season, in 2002 - it was time to make a decision; stay for his fifth and final year or move on and try to win a few more games.


"I think everyone wants to win at some point. Being my last year, I had one shot to fulfill some of the needs and wants that I had so I decided to move on," Patrick said.


"I felt like I had done everything I could and had passed along some valuable things to the younger guys."


And when it came time to finally decide on where to land, Delaware fit.


"I wanted to go some where that was rich in tradition in football," Patrick said.


The Blue Hens have won six national titles in the program's 100-plus year history, most recently winning the I-AA title in 2003, and have routinely outdrawn not so distant I-A Temple.


And in his only season with the Blue Hens, Patrick had a breakout year. Finishing with six touchdowns and 639 yards receiving on 64 receptions, Patrick amassed more catches than his previous two seasons combined and just 15 fewer than his career total at Duke. He led Division I-AA tight ends in receiving and earned I-AA All-American status.


Some might look at those numbers with a discerning eye. They'll say the jump in numbers was the result of a Division I player taking advantage of inferior Division I-AA competition. They'll say the superior athlete was too fast, too strong for the weaklings of the A-10. Not the case, says Patrick.


"You're expecting a big drop-off, but it wasn't. You're expecting a big drop-off as far as speed and size, but the Atlantic 10 definitely has guys who can play at the next level," Patrick said.


Patrick will be the first to sing the praises of Division I-AA football and he'll tell you that guys like New Hampshire's David Ball, UMass' Steve Baylark and other A-10 players are NFL-caliber players, just like himself.


After all, it was the A-10 where Patrick really distinguished himself, so much so that he earned an invite to the Senior Bowl at the end of January when Rutgers' Clark Harris was sidelined with a foot injury. He got a chance to work with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden for the better part of a week and consequently auditioned for a large contingent of NFL scouts and execs before the NFL Combine in February, getting a chance to distinguish his talents from the other tight ends earlier than he had hoped.    


"The whole class is pretty stacked, in my opinion," Patrick said. "Anything that I can do I'm going to do to try and set myself apart."


He won't go as high as Greg Olson, the Miami tight end who wowed everyone with his workout at the combine and all but assured himself of a first round selection. Arizona State's Zach Miller should be the second tight end picked, somewhere in the second round. Then Patrick should hear his named.


"I think I'm versatile tight end," Patrick said. "I think I can do it all. I think I'm a receiver as well as on fourth-and-one when you can run the ball right behind me."


Patrick figures to be off the board on the first day. He's a projected third rounder, considered to be the third best tight end in the class.


"If not, we'll deal with the chips where they may fall," Patrick said.


He could wind up being one of the highest drafted Blue Hens in history as he'll look to distinguish himself even more during Thursday's pro-day at Delaware.


But there's one thing the team that chooses him in April's draft can be sure of: Patrick isn't going to have any problems learning his sixth offense in six years.


"I've got some good training already," Patrick said.