Mike Tomlin says 'work in progress' George Pickens will play Saturday amid non-blocking scrutiny

George Pickens has attracted plenty of attention for his apparent lack of effort on one particular play during the Steelers’ latest loss.

His explanation — “I didn’t want to get injured” — didn’t do him any favors. Coach Mike Tomlin addressed the matter regarding the 2022 second-round pick Wednesday, stating that Pickens would play in Week 16 and declining to discuss any potential discipline. 

“George is a talented guy, but he’s growing, and growing in a lot of ways, in regards to football and life,” Tomlin said. “We don’t run away from that, we run to that organizationally. When we draft guys, we’re committed to being a component in their growth and development in all areas.”

With Pickens lined up wide left during Pittsburgh’s Week 15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, running back Jaylen Warren received a toss to Pickens’ side, finding a crease off tackle and sprinting toward the goal line. As Warren crashed into a trio of defenders and was brought down at the Indianapolis 1, Pickens stood by idly, moving only to avoid getting rolled up under by Colts linebacker E.J. Speed.

The lack of effort has irritated Steelers fans, which has transformed it into a much-discussed storyline following Pittsburgh’s loss to Indianapolis.

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Pickens arrived as a talented receiver out of Georgia who fell to the second round because of injury and character concerns, and in a season that has presented him with plenty of adversity, Pickens hasn’t exactly cleared those tests.

“He is very much a work in progress. It is continual,” Tomlin said. “It’s not going to be one incident, or one meeting or one form of discipline that’s going to institute the type of change that we’re hunting to be quite honest with you. It is going to be continual.

“He has not helped himself. He has not helped the process in the manner in which he’s dealt with you guys. But the manner in which he deals with you guys is not necessarily the manner in which he deals with us or himself, regarding acknowledging where he is and where he needs to go.”

Essentially, Tomlin admitted Pickens needs to grow up. But he also staked a position that remains interesting: According to Tomlin, the Pickens the world sees isn’t the Pickens the Steelers see inside the facility during the week.

As Tomlin seems to view it, a quick fix could just be a crash course on public relations.

“Part of it is an education, and I want him to understand that as well,” Tomlin said. “When you’re winning and doing your jobs, a lot of the attention is on things such as that. When you’re not doing your job and losing you better keep your damn mouth shut, and understand that that attracts a certain type of attention as well, and usually that’s vulture-like attention.”

Tomlin didn’t shy from the notion Pickens has yet to mature to a professional standard, but the Steelers are undoubtedly invested in Pickens’ future. He’s shown flashes of rare talent that, if nurtured and properly cultivated, could lead him to an elite status in the NFL.

A player of lesser ability might not receive the same patience from a team. But the Steelers know Pickens’ potential, and they’re unlikely to move on from a talent like him so quickly, especially when he’s on a rookie contract.

Pickens will play in Pittsburgh’s Week 16 game against Cincinnati (8-6), the team’s second straight Saturday showdown. This one will be even more crucial to the Steelers’ wilting hopes of reaching the postseason, and they’ll need every weapon available. 

“Because again, he’s got talents,” Tomlin said when asked why Pickens would play Saturday. “We want to utilize them. He’s very much in growth and development. But it would be the same if we were winning games or if he said appropriate things with you guys yesterday. 

“You guys might have gone away, but that wouldn’t have made me any more comfortable about this process that he’s going through, that is ongoing and continual and will continue to require our attention.”

We’ll see if Pickens dedicates the same effort as the Steelers are to him this weekend.

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