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Mike Griffith / DawgNation
George Pickens is only a true freshman, but his playmaking ability is such that he will be watched closely the rest of his football career.

Kirby Smart: Georgia’s George Pickens growing from ‘tough coaching,’ team leaders

ATHENS — The progress of Georgia’s rising star receiver George Pickens this Saturday might be better evaluated by what fans don’t see than what they do see on the football field.

Pickens, an impact freshman receiver from Hoover, Ala., has been a pivotal answer to the attrition the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs’ suffered in their receiving corps entering into the noon game with Arkansas State on Saturday.

RELATED: Pickens among 7 Bulldogs to watch closely Saturday

Of the many storylines unfolding on Georgia’s national championship contending team, the evolution of Pickens in an offense that lost its top five receivers from last season ranks among the most important.

Pickens broke out last week with four catches for a team-high 78 yards. The speedy 6-foot-3, 190-pounder made a diving grab off a 43-yard Jake Fromm bomb that fans are still talking about.

 

He laid out to catch that one, he’s made a lot more difficult caches in practice than that one,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said on his radio show on Thursday. “He can go get the ball, he enjoys that part.”

Smart is also impressed with Pickens’ downfield blocking, a key cog in Georgia’s prolific run game. If anything, Smart said, Pickens needs to be less physical in that aspect.

“He thinks every block he is going to be able to go knock them out. He’s got to learn that they see him coming,” Smart said earlier this week. “He’s not invisible, so he has to do a good job of position blocking, fit up, sustain blocks and not try to go for the big hit all the time.”

Another part of Pickens’ game that Smart wants to see modified is how the true freshman handles adversity. Last Saturday, Pickens let his emotions get the best of him and threw the ball at a defender, drawing a 15-yard penalty in the 63-17 win over Murray State.

Smart said he recognizes the Pickens is an emotional player, and he doesn’t want to take that part out of him.

RELATED: Smart addresses penalty on ‘emotional’ George Pickens

But the Bulldogs’ head coach also knows he and his program have a responsibility to help Pickens learn where to draw the line. Smart said Pickens came to Georgia to learn those kinds of lessons in a system that demands players be at their best.

“We’re going to be very hard on you, and you’re going to be pushed, and if you don’t want to be pushed or you want to take the easy way, you’re probably better off not picking this place,” Smart said.

“And George has never shied away from that.  George handles tough coaching really well. He was well-coached in high school, he came from a good program, they coached him hard. (Pickens) understands that he has to grow up and mature, he gets that.”

Strong leadership in the locker room is part of the Georgia culture. Players like senior receiver Tyler Simmons are helping Pickens, who appears ready to blossom into a national star.

“With me being a senior in the room, that’s my job to step up and talk to him a little bit,” Simmons said. “He brings a lot of energy to the room. We love the energy that he brings to the receiver room, we have to let him know that sometimes you might get (emotional) a bit too much.

“This isn’t high school, you have to stay within the rules and stay disciplined.”

Simmons said he shared his approach with Pickens, though, he admitted it might be hard for the receiver who wears the No. 1 jersey to follow.

“Just be humble at times, that’s the advice I’d give him, be humble and stay about your business, you’re doing a very good job for our team and he’s been very productive,” Simmons said. “It is hard for him, I’ll let you know that, It’s hard for George, but we’re trying to keep him a little humble.”

Smart explained how he encourages players like Simmons to provide their younger teammates that sort of direction.

“I try to talk to the leadership group once a week about inspiring others, about taking ownership in their respective positions,” Smart said, “so each guy can go out and inspire someone else to attack the day.”

Fromm, the most visible leader in the offensive huddle, has also continued to encourage and support Pickens.

“Yeah, he’s a big-time guy, he’s a really good player, he needs to clean up some of the little details, but I think he has tremendous potential, and I hope we can go out and play better next week,” Fromm said. “He’s a guy who has come in and worked his tail off, especially in the summer and in camp.”

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