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JT Daniels knows what must come next for George Pickens, Georgia offense

JT Daniels knows that winning a national championship without George Pickens is a much more difficult task.

Even with what Daniels calls a loaded receiver room, he’s realistic about the task of replicating what Pickens brought to the Georgia team.

That’s why when Pickens first went down, Daniels wasn’t so much concerned about the impact the injury will have on the Georgia team. As someone who suffered what he referred to as a “catastrophic” knee injury in the first game of his sophomore season, Daniels was more concerned about Pickens the person.

“I think you gotta be there for George the person more than George the player,” Daniels said.”His two biggest strengths are his confidence and his love of football. I think it’s going to be big for him and big on me that he keeps those two things essential to him.”

In the final four games of the 2020 season, Pickens caught 23 passes for 373 yards from Daniels and four touchdowns. All of those were team highs over that span. If you stretch those numbers out over the course of a 12-game season, it would pretty easily be the best season by a Georgia wide receiver in program history.

If there is a silver lining in this instance, the injury happened early enough to where Pickens could possibly return in the later stages of the season. A typical ACL injury can take seven to eight months to heal. That timeline would put Pickens back on the field in late November or early December if things go well for Pickens in his rehab process.

Related: Divaad Wilson, Hines Ward and the importance of rehab when it comes to potential George Pickens return

“We know it’s important about what’s next,” wide receiver Kearis Jackson said. “We still have to continue to play football. Just praying that everything goes well for his surgery. Just hopes he comes back healthier, stronger and faster.”

Daniels though did single out a number of players who can help contribute in the passing game. He praised how well Justin Robinson and Demetris Robertson have played, with both making a few big plays in this past Saturday’s scrimmage. He noted as well the improvements Jermaine Burton had made before sustaining a minor knee injury.

The junior quarterback even detailed the improvements less known players like John FitzPatrick and Adonai Mitchell have made this spring.

Related: What we’ve learned so far about Georgia’s 2021 early enrollees

“As much as you hate to lose George, and you really do there’s no understating that, you got a lot of guys that are going to work their butt off and try and produce in any way they can,” Daniels said.

Jackson, the unquestioned leader at wide receiver, feels the same way. He’s taken it upon himself to be a more vocal leader, as past veterans such as Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin and Tyler Simmons were for him.

“Without George being here, we do have a talented room,” Jackson said. “That’s what we do in recruiting, and Coach Hankton has done a great job of bringing guys in. With George being out, we do have other guys who can be able to step up and reach those opportunities with George being down.”

It also helps that Daniels himself returns to Georgia for another season with a clear national championship goal in mind.

This time a year ago, Daniels was still at USC. He had yet to arrive at Georgia, a place he hasn’t left since he showed up last June. He’s now much more confident in his knee, which kept him from being cleared for the season opener against Arkansas.

This spring, which both Jackson and Daniels are thankful to have, the Georgia quarterback has been fine-tuning elements of his own game.

“The game has definitely slowed down to a certain extent,” Daniels said on what he feels he’s improved on. “Decision making and not making bad plays worse, which is always something that’s been a constant area of improvement for me that I always need to emphasize.

“Guys are going to slip, someone is going to run the wrong route now and then, then someone will miss protection. It’s on me to not make it worse and get a turnover.  Incompletions aren’t bad, throw-aways aren’t bad.”

Related: JT Daniels ‘fully transitioned’ to Georgia, national championship in his sights

Daniels also has the added confidence of being named the starting quarterback, something Kirby Smart has been hesitant to do throughout his tenure as Georgia’s head coach. The final four games of the 2020 season, where Daniels threw 10 touchdowns to two interceptions while leading Georgia to a 4-0 record, helped cement that status.

One player isn’t going to step in and make up for all that Pickens brought to the Georgia team. Even if Daniels turns into the next Mac Jones or Joe Burrow, the offense won’t be the same without the talented junior wide receiver.

It’s going to take a village, or in this case a deep wide receiver room, to help overcome the Pickens’ absence in the regular season. If the Bulldogs are lucky enough though to get Pickens back for the stretch run of the 2021 season, it could really help Daniels accomplish his ultimate goal.

“There’s no denying you want to win a natty, and I think we have the team to do it,” Daniels said “Obviously, losing George doesn’t help you, losing an elite top receiver, but it’s a great team.”

JT Daniels, Kearis Jackson discuss what comes next for George Pickens

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