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George Pickens is poised for a big sophomore season

Kirby Smart explains how George Pickens has improved and why he needs more help

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George Pickens continuing to get better on and off the field

In the first half of Georgia’s Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor, George Pickens didn’t need any help. He caught 11 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. The rest of Georgia’s wide receivers had three catches for 25 yards.

That opening 30 minutes is why Pickens was named the Sugar Bowl MVP and a big reason why there’s so much excitement around him heading into his sophomore season.

“This kid loves ball, he’s as natural of a catcher as I’ve ever seen. Great hands,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Pickens on an ESPN podcast with David Pollack and Kevin Negandhi. “Some of the catches he has made in practices are off the charts, and I get to see it every day.”

Related: Kirby Smart pleased with ‘mindset’ Jamie Newman brings to UGA

Georgia hasn’t had a wide receiver with as much potential as Pickens in quite some time. And the word potential is an important one to keep in mind with Pickens. Because he’s not a finished product yet. He’s not AJ Green or the next great college football wide receiver.

There’s still room for him to get better, both on and off the field.

“He’s young, and he’s maturing. He’s physically developed more, that’s part of the biggest difference in him, meaning adding 5 to 7 pounds a little faster,” Smart said. “He’s not a college freshman anymore. He’s stronger. So I’ve been really impressed with the changes in his body.”

The physical improvements are a positive development for Pickens and the Georgia offense. A season ago, just about every Georgia fan knew who Pickens was. Coming into this season, every defensive coordinator in the country will know and gameplan for Pickens.

Georgia has just a single 1,000-yard wide receiver in the history of the program. Pickens will be attempting to be the second this year. But to do that, he’s going to have to continue growing, maturing as Smart said, before and after the whistle blows.

Pickens missed the first half of the Georgia Tech game due to a violation of team rules. In the second half of that same game, he was ejected for slamming a defender into a wall. That got him a suspension for the SEC championship game against LSU.

In between those two moments though, Pickens hauled in a long touchdown pass, once again showing everyone why he’s one of the most-hyped players of Smart’s tenure.

“He loves football. He loves football to the point that sometimes it hurts him,” Smart said. “He’s so energetic after the catch, and he’s so excited and he wants to celebrate with other players. That’s just George.”

Related: ESPN names the most exciting Georgia football player for 2020 season

Pickens doesn’t shy away from being an aggressive player. In his first game against Vanderbilt, he drove an opposing defender into the ground. Chippy would be a fair description of Pickens’ attitude.

He’s not afraid to both show and let you know that he’s a better player than you. Sometimes, as we saw in the Georgia Tech game, that can backfire and work against Pickens.

Just about everyone who follows Georgia football, including Smart, knows this. Pickens is now going to be a target for opposing defenses, as defenders will try and get under his skin and coaches will try and scheme him out of the game. And if opposing coaches can scheme up ways to frustrate Pickens, he might lose his cool.

Which is why Smart emphasized the need for Georgia to get help for Pickens on the football field.

“We’re going to have to do a really good job of putting him in different spots so people can’t figure him out and we better get some help,” Smart said. “You’ve got to have a little help for him, because there’s things you can do to dictate coverage for one guy, but if you can get that second guy, with the backs we’ve got, that makes me feel better.”

Finding that second, and probably even third guy, is one of the more important tasks for Todd Monken, Georgia’s new offensive coordinator. He’s had a history of getting the most out of talented wide receivers, whether that be Mike Evans with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State.

Georgia has options at that spot, but none of them are as obvious as Pickens. Dominick Blaylock is coming off an ACL injury. Demetris Robertson has been talked about as a potential difference-maker at wide receiver for a third-straight offseason. And Jermaine Burton, Marcus Rosemy and Arian Smith have played a combined zero college snaps.

Related: WATCH: Marcus Rosemy, Arian Smith explain what they’re bringing to the Georgia football wide receiver room

Entering the 2020 season, hold your COVID-19 retorts for the moment, there likely isn’t a more talented player on Georgia’s offense than Pickens. He has as high a ceiling as anyone on the team.

But to get to and possibly shatter that ceiling, Pickens will need help. If he gets it, the entire Georgia offense will likely have answered many of the questions that dogged it during the 2019 season.

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