By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — George Pickens called it back in April.
Minutes after the Pittsburgh Steelers picked the wide receiver in the second round of the NFL draft, Pickens described the team’s decision to pair him with first-round pick Kenny Pickett ” a blessing.”
Fast forward seven months and the combination that the Steelers had hoped would eventually thrive is thriving, perhaps even sooner than anyone anticipated. Maybe someone other than Pickens.
No other skill position player at the Steelers — not 2021 Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson, not tight end Pat Freiermuth, not running back Najee Harris — seems to inspire as much confidence in Pickett as the 6-foot-3 pickens .
When Pickett finds himself in a sticky situation, his eyes tend to go to Pickens’ No. 14 to wander regardless of where he is on the field. One of the reasons Pickens leads the Steelers in receiving yards since Pickett took over at the one-half in their Week 4 loss to the New York Jets.
The duo bonded in two crucial games during the game-winning drive against Indianapolis on Monday night.
The first came over the middle on a third and ninth dart when Pickett delivered pickens low and hard for a 13-yard gain.
The second came on a 2-point conversion after Benny Snell’s green touchdown run. The game collapsed on the snap and Pickett scrambled to the right before spotting Pickens in the back corner of the end zone.
A fastball to Pickens’ midsection later, the Steelers had a seven lead, and a friendship that began during the pre-draft process took another important step forward.
No wonder T-shirts promoting the burgeoning bromance are already popping up on the internet and in the city’s Strip District.
While they may seem different on the surface — the prolific Pickens plays with a casual athleticism that often makes difficult catches seem routine, while the late-bloomer Pickett took a fifth year at Pitt to turn NFL scouts’ heads — approaching they join the game and themselves with a similar attitude.
When asked to describe Pickett, Pickens might as well have described himself.
“(Kenny’s) always had this swagger” Pickens said about his fellow rookie. “You see the hair. He already has the swag. He already has that kind of competitiveness.”
A competitiveness that is also deeply rooted in Pickens. It’s one of the reasons he spent part of the second half against the Colts after two uncharacteristic drops on the touchline.
“I was just getting frustrated because I never want to be the reason we lost.” said Pickens.
Something that rarely happened to the 21-year-old Pickens during his college career in Georgia, although a cruciate ligament tear in March 2021 seemed to jeopardize his junior year with the Bulldogs. He found a way to return in time for the SEC Championship and College Football Playoffs, where Georgia won its first national title in 41 years.
The Alabama native views Pittsburgh’s (4-7) visit to Atlanta (5-7) on Sunday as a homecoming of sorts.
There will be a crowd of friends and family in the stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, although Pickens insisted he is in no mood for sentimentality and said he was looking forward to taking the field with him “A new group of guys.”
Especially the quarterback, with whom he apparently builds up an intangible but noticeable chemistry with every shot.
“He’s so unique and I think that makes his game great out there because he’s just himself and he has this extreme confidence and I’m extremely confident he’s going to make the game.” said Pickett.
Pickens warned against confusing confidence with arrogance. He started playing soccer when he was 4 years old. While it looks like things are going to be easy, that’s not the case, even if the swagger he exudes makes it appear that way.
“I just always work hard” said Pickens “The working hard concept is really my trust. guys see it that way. It comes across as ‘he’s that guy’ when actually (I) am like chilling.”
That mentality allowed Pickens to recover from a cruciate ligament rupture at warp speed, making him the breakout star of training camp. What began as a series of eye-opening plays at Saint Vincent College in July and August has grown into an almost weekly event at much larger venues in the fall.
Just like Pickens predicted.
NOTES: RB Najee Harris (abdominals) did not train for the second straight day on Thursday. … LB Myles Jack (knee) and DT Larry Ogunjobi (toe) also didn’t train. … LB TJ Watt (ribs), RB Benny Snell (knee), LB Rob Spillane (oblique) and C Mason Cole (foot) were limited.