Georgia’s George Pickens ahead of schedule on ACL recovery

Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) soars over an Arkansas defender to score during the Bulldogs' win over the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/UGA Athletics)
Caption
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) soars over an Arkansas defender to score during the Bulldogs' win over the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Walt Beazley

Credit: Walt Beazley

ATHENS — George Pickens could be down in south Florida somewhere rehabbing. But there he was this week in Georgia’s “House of Payne,” running routes and catching passes during practice.

It was a welcome sight for the Bulldogs, if not a bit of a tease. It’s unlikely the star wideout will be able to compete in a game in the next month or maybe even this season. But as he lined up behind two other split ends and sprinted across middle of the field to effortlessly receive a hard-thrown pass, it was a reminder that there is an approaching finish line, and Pickens, as usual, is getting there faster than most.

Explore5 candidates to succeed George Pickens as Georgia’s ‘X’ receiver

“George is running really well,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after practice Tuesday night. “He’s a special guy when it comes to coming off of injury. I mean, he’s out there running and catching balls. You wouldn’t think watching there’s anything wrong with him. But Ron (Courson) has a protocol, and Ron’s following that exactly. George has done a tremendous job of doing what he’s supposed to do in rehab, being where he’s supposed to be.”

What reporters witnessed Pickens doing has been his routine for almost two weeks now. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound split end from Hoover, Ala., stretches and warms up with his teammates daily. Then, wearing a black jersey that signifies his non-contact status, he runs defender-less routes with the other wideouts and catches passes from six different Georgia quarterbacks.

Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) during the Bulldogs’ practice session for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA Sports)
Caption
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) during the Bulldogs’ practice session for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA Sports)

Credit: UGA Sports

Credit: UGA Sports

Then, Pickens leaves the practice field and retires to the Bulldogs’ training facility to continue his rehab and lift weights. Other than the bulky brace on his knee, Pickens looks every bit the svelte receiving threat that has been terrorizing opposing secondaries the past two seasons.

Two weeks ago, Pickens went to Birmingham to visit renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a checkup and assessment. With his mother and Courson alongside, Pickens was told his recovery was ahead of schedule, and he was cleared to resume limited football activity.

“Ron’s done thousands of ACLs, it seems like, since being here, and he would tell you better. (But) he does say that George’s recovery and his body is just naturally on top of it,” Smart said. “And it wasn’t as bad as some of the others, you know. Others had multiple tears in theirs. His was not as bad as Nick Chubb’s and some of those guys.”

Just as important, Smart reported that Pickens has continued to attend classes and do everything he needs to maintain eligibility.

However, Georgia fans should be warned not to get too excited about an imminent return for Pickens this season. He suffered the ACL tear during the Bulldogs’ spring practice March 23 and underwent reconstructive surgery in April. Typical recoveries take eight to 12 months for high-caliber athletes to return to competition, according to the Mayo Clinic.

That would place Pickens’ return in November at the earliest. Georgia’s regular season ends on Nov. 27, with the SEC Championship game being held a week later at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Meanwhile, there are Pickens’ NFL prospects to consider. Kyle Crabbs, director of scouting for the The Draft Network, calls Pickens “the most physically talented wide receiver available for the 2022 draft.”

Because of what he describes as “a thin receiver market” for 2022, Crabbs projects Pickens “at the top of the first round.”

Whether Pickens is willing to risk such promising prospects for an abbreviated junior season is a call only he and his family can make. To date, he hasn’t discussed it publicly.

Regardless, it’s encouraging for the Bulldogs to see No. 1 back on the practice field running around and plucking footballs out of the air like has 85 times in 22 games the past two seasons.

“We’re happy to have George back,” senior linebacker Quay Walker said. “It brings excitement to everybody.”

Count Smart among them. He said he has been impressed with Pickens’ dedication to rehab, strength and conditioning and remaining attune with the team.

But he was not about to predict a return.

“So, what is the prognosis? I don’t know,” Smart said. “I don’t know the timeline on that. I do know that he’s working really hard. And we’ve not made it about George’s return. That’s not what we talk about. We talk about George getting healthy, and that’s what we’ve consistently sold to him.”

Dawg Tags: The AJC presents a daily look at the one thing you need to know about Georgia athletics today.

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks