ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart indicated he has seen improvement across the board from the Bulldogs’ 2019 signing class, but some players have stood out more than others.
Obviously, George Pickens is near the top of that list. The freshman from Hoover, Ala., is second on the team with 29 catches for 389 yards and tied for the team lead with 4 receiving touchdowns.
“He’s got a lot of potential, (and) he’s one of the most natural pass-catchers I’ve seen,” Smart said on his radio show this week. “He snatches and plucks the ball out of the air. He has an uncanny ability to catch the ball with his hands when his body is in twisted and contorted positions.
“You can tell he’s caught a lot of balls growing up, because he has no fear going up for it.”
Pickens figures to be a central figure in the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs’ showdown at No. 12 Auburn at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Originally an Auburn commit, Pickens will surely be playing with emotion.
Smart said he’s also been impressed with Dominick Blaylock’s improvement, particularly in the punt return game.
“He has great ball judgment, decision-making and really elite hands, he’s done a good job of that,” Smart said of Blaylock, who had punt returns of 16 and 18 yards against Missouri last Saturday.
“We want to get more out of that return game, more explosiveness, but he’s given us the confidence he’s always going to take care of that ball back there.”
Smart pointed to two true freshman on defense who have shown continued improvement.
“I think Nakobe (Dean) has come a long way, he still has a ways to go, but he’s come a long way,” Smart said of the 5-star linebacker signee. “He understands some things, he’s playing good for us in pass situations.”
Dean often comes in on third downs and has 16 tackles, a QB Hurry and a forced fumble in the nine games he has played this season.
Smart said defensive back Tyrique Stevenson has also impressed of late.
“Tyrique,” Smart said, “is another guy that’s come along and done some good things.”
Stevenson drew great praise for his ability from defensive coordinator Dan Lanning at the start of fall drills.
Teammates indicated it was a matter of Stevenson learning the importance of investing his time in the film room.
Stevenson has eight tackles, four pass break-ups and two QB Hurries in the nine games he has played this season.