PITTSBURGH — Coming from Georgia, George Pickens knows what big-time football looks like. The NFL stage will be even bigger than the National Championship against Alabama, but Pickens is a certified playmaker. At 6-foot-2 with a 4.47 40-yard dash, Pickens is known for creating explosive plays. That might just be what allows Pickens to break out this season.
So, when Mitch Trubisky was scanning deep down field, looking for a big play during the team’s first practice of minicamp on Tuesday, it wasn’t surprising that he looked to Pickens to make a big-time play. Trubisky found Pickens open in the secondary nd the rookie hauled in a 70 yard touchdown. The play wasn’t even drawn up to be thrown that way. Instead, Pickens just beat his man so badly that Trubisky could not help but air it out down the field to him.
“It was a clear-out, a real love for the game route,” Pickens said of the play, meaning that he was just to create space for other players in the concept. “I just looked up and the ball was in the air. That’s what happened. I had a step on him the whole way. The initial step, it was love for the game route, so I didn’t think I’d get the ball. But that’s how it came.”
The Trubisky to Pickens connection is something that could mature and develop over the season. Right now, the two have not interacted a ton off the field, but Pickens is getting to know the style that Trubisky plays with. As it stands, that connection and their chemistry are growing stronger from the outset. Pickens hopes it translates into big plays and winning football for the Steelers.
“Mitch and I are really cool on the field, but I haven’t gotten to know him off the field,” Pickens said. “I know from him on the field, that he’s a great guy. We don’t have a personal relationship off the field just yet. … Mitch has been a guy who will rip it. When going down the field and stuff like that, he’s been with that program. We only have so many reps here and there, but he’s been launching it, for sure.”
There are changes to what Pickens is doing at the professional level. Known as more of a pure outside receiver in college, Pickens is learning how to play the slot with the Steelers. This is an adjustment that he will have to make one of a number of things that he has to learn throughout the offseason that will allow him to be more adept to the NFL.
“I’ve been playing in the slot at Georgia in practice only,” Pickens said. “That’s what a lot of people didn’t know. However, on film, I think I show traits that I can work there. For me, adjusting to the slot, it’s really good. That’s something I wanted to showcase. I wanted to show everybody that. I’m not just a big, fast guy.”
With JuJu Smtih-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud all gone, Pickens may be asked to make a day one impact — if he’s ready for it. Mike Tomlin is not shying away from what Pickens brings to the team, but there is also the very real feeling that Pickens is still somewhat raw.
“Very much in development,” Tomlin said of Pickens. “He’s got a lot of talent and he’s raw. But that’s OK. That’s why we’ve got coaches. It’s our job to help him grow and develop. Not only him, but all of them. He’s got a lot of talent. We drafted where we drafted him based on that talent. It’s our job and his job to develop the skill to allow those talents to show regardless of circumstance.”
So, what is that specific talent? There are a lot of traits that stick out about Pickens, but wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson highlighted just a few that make Pickens a little different from other receivers that came through the 2022 NFL Draft. With those traits in mind, the Steelers will try to cater to his specific strengths and what he can bring to the table.
“He’s a big guy that plays small,” Jackson said of Pickens. “The way he sinks his hips, uses his lateral quickness, short-area burst, the things that naturally occur in a smaller guy, you see with him. He’s just an absolute freak athlete. We are hoping we can take advantage of that.”
Pickens is off to a good start and is impressing the team. His production over his first year will be watched closely, but more importantly, the film he puts out will be, too. Tomlin, Jackson, and the entire coaching staff are expecting big things out of Pickens. The question will be how quickly he picks things up and is able to translate them onto the field.