Georgia's new top priority for spring practice is finding a replacement for injured top wide receiver George Pickens.
It's a difficult assignment.
Pickens could miss the 2021 season following this week's right knee injury. The loss of the junior robs the Bulldogs of their most dynamic and productive receiver. The devastating injury impacts Georgia's hopes of competing for the Southeastern Conference and national championships.
“George will be dearly missed because he’s talented and he works really hard,” coach Kirby Smart said after practice Thursday. “He makes our whole team better. I know that’s obvious in terms of what he does offensively, but he makes all the defensive backs better. When you talk about challenging guys, there’s no greater matchup for a young defensive back than going against George. That part we don’t control but what we do control is how we respond to it.”
The announcement from Georgia on Wednesday that Pickens is facing surgery changes the outlook for an offense that had looked forward to returning most of its skill position leaders, including quarterback J.T. Daniels.
Pickens suffered damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a non-contact drill on Tuesday. A normal recovery period for the surgery is about nine months, which would carry through the season.
Smart would not rule out Pickens for the full season.
Pickens (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) has a rare combination of size, speed and big-play skills. He was considered Georgia's top receiver since A.J. Green, who was the No. 4 overall pick by Cincinnati in the 2011 NFL draft.
Pickens flourished in four games after Daniels, the transfer from Southern Cal, was named the starter in 2020. Pickens had 23 receptions for 294 yards and four touchdowns in that span, including seven catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 24-21 Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati.
The four-game stretch included Pickens' two-TD game in a 49-14 win at Missouri. After that game, Daniels said “I'll never overthrow George.”
This was to be the first spring for Pickens and Daniels together. Daniels was recovering from knee surgery that prevented him for being available at the start of the 2020 season.
Despite missing two games in 2020 with injuries, Pickens led Georgia with six touchdown catches and tied Kearis Jackson for the team lead with 36 receptions for 513 yards.
Georgia's wide receiver corps wasn't at full strength this spring even before Pickens' injury.
Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint are recovering from injuries. Blaylock suffered his second major left knee injury in preseason practice last year after first hurting the knee in Georgia's 2019 SEC championship game loss to LSU. Rosemy-Jacksaint's 2020 season ended when he suffered a dislocated ankle against Florida.
“Both those guys are running and doing things but they’re not ready to practice yet,” Smart said.
If healthy, Rosemy-Jacksaint and Blaylock would join Jackson, Jermaine Burton, Demetris Robertson and three redshirt freshmen — Arian Smith, Justin Robinson and Ladd McConkey at receiver.
“We lost a guy who’s a pretty good playmaker, but we have other guys we think are pretty good playmakers,” Smart said. “We’ll try to find ways to get them the ball.”
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