football Edit

Pickens touts maturity

It is a more mature version of wide receiver George Pickens that will take the field for Georgia in next week’s season-opener at Arkansas.

By now you know the story.

Suspended for the first half of the SEC Championship following his ejection after a second-quarter dust-up against Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling, making sure Pickens kept his emotions in check was a year-long challenge for head coach Kirby Smart.

But that was then.

During a Friday Zoom session with reporters, Pickens revealed that just before the Sugar Bowl, and during the ninth months that have followed since, he is a different person. He's anxious to prove it with a better season this fall.

“Specifically, from the Sugar Bowl game, from then on, I've just been focusing on the team. That's kind of how I got good in the Sugar Bowl game, and how I got the numbers I had— because I was just focused on the team,” Pickens said. “Now that’s what I’m really working on. I felt like I was (team-focused) before, but it wasn’t as important to me as it was to other people. So now it’s way more important to me.”

That's certainly welcomed news for Smart.

With a season-ending ACL injury to Dominick Blaylock, and other questions regarding the position’s youth, Smart needs to be sure he can count on Pickens to be that consistent force and not have to worry about any bouts with immaturity.

"George is a talented player. In terms of leadership, it starts from within; it starts with him. He's got to do a great job of making sure he's handling all the things that he's got to do both on and off the field,” Smart said. “George is growing up, as all players do, and we need him to grow up faster. We need him to lead more. He's certainly a talented player, but sometimes that can be a disease at Georgia that affects you. You have to be careful of that, because what makes George great: his love for the game. And you just cannot let that be a weakness; you've got to use it as a strength."

Pickens said that's just what he is trying to do.

“It’s really just about staying wholesome. I make so many big plays, and I see on the Internet or things like that. And I see them getting riled up. But knowing me, I just have to stay calm and play as a team,” Pickens said. “This year, I'm mostly just focused on the team, because I see now that the team can win you a national championship. The team can win you an SEC Championship. If your team is grounded, then you’re going to win.”

From a statistical standpoint, Pickens’ freshman year went pretty much as planned, earning Freshman All-SEC honors after catching 49 passes for 727 yards with eight touchdowns. He capped his season with a Georgia bowl-tying record 12 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown, sparking the Bulldogs’ victory over Baylor.

“It was really big,” Pickens said. “Me coming out into that game, I just wanted to show everybody that I don’t have to do other things just to be great or just to make plays.”

Under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Pickens said he is already learning tricks that he hopes to apply to an even better year.

“The biggest thing that has changed for me as a receiver under Coach Monken was just the split-adjust, me being an outside edge or me being an inside edge,” Pickens said. “I feel like that helped me a lot, knowing he is an NFL guy. He and Coach [Cortez] Hankton are just two guys who can really help me improve."

For example?

“Just tricks and tools with my rout running. Last year, I was just running the routes they told me to run, and I was trying to do it to the best of my ability,” he said. “Now, I know some little things he’s seen from teams he used to be with like the Browns, so Odell (Beckham), Jarvis Landry—he takes things he knows from those guys and showed me. He helps me every day.”

George Pickens says he's much more mature than he was last year.
George Pickens says he's much more mature than he was last year. (Tony Walsh/UGA Sports Communications)