It’s just Week 1, and drawing any conclusions or firm reactions from a regular season opener is a dangerous proposition. But after flashing all summer, rookie wide receiver George Pickens was church mouse-quiet in his regular season debut. Despite playing 45 offensive snaps, he caught just one pass for three yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky spoke to reporters before Wednesday’s practice and vowed to get Pickens more involved going forward.
“Definitely looking to get him more opportunities this week,” Trubisky said of Pickens via the team website.
Pickens finished the day with only three targets. One missed connection came deep down the right sideline, a pressured throw Trubisky threw out of bounds that had no chance of being caught. But there was still areas of Pickens route to clean up.
Here’s the play with Pickens at the bottom.
“I just told George to take off a little more, so the corner can’t play his go ball and squat on the out route as well,” Pickens said. “So that’s something we could just get on the same page with.”
As the play shows, a slow-played release allowed the cornerback to play underneath and not respect the vertical threat. While Pickens ran past him, had he pushed harder, he would’ve created more space and perhaps allowed Trubisky to throw more inside, giving him a chance to make the play. While Pickens has a gazelle-like nature, sometimes making him look slower than he is, this route should’ve been better.
While Pickens’ raw talent is undeniable, we’ve noted the need for him to work on his releases and overall route running, still a raw player and only 21 years old. Here’s one excerpt that we wrote about him in our training camp evaluation.
“There’s flaws in his game that get masked by all the highlight-reel stuff. He needs to create more separation on his intermediate routes, needs to be a more technical route runner and getting the correct depth (something Coach Jackson was on him about throughout the summer) and his release package could use work, too. He’s still a bit raw around the edges, expected for a 21 year old underclassman who barely played last season.”
The good news is Pickens played a heavy amount of the snaps in the opener and is a starting receiver in the team’s three-receiver sets. Aside from Diontae Johnson’s unbelievable sideline catch, all the Steelers’ receivers had a quiet start to the year. Chase Claypool had four grabs for 18 yards, Johnson had seven for 55, so this wasn’t an issue exclusive to Pickens. Better days for him are ahead but Pickens’ game is feast/famine, and with non-elite quarterback play, there will be duds like the one he had against the Bengals.