Pickens Embracing Growing Role

The ASU offense has morphed itself into a high-tempo, quick scoring machine over the past couple of seasons. It's a unit loaded with gifted skill players, perhaps none more-so than at wide receiver where each week it seems a new player steps up to make a significant contribution. One of those talented players is AJ Pickens.

Pickens came to ASU as a highly-touted wide receiver in 2008 but only played sparingly throughout his first couple years in maroon and gold. This year though, despite starting the season buried along the depth chart, he has seen his role expand, seemingly week by week. He came into the 2011 season with just three career receptions, but has proven that with a little more playing time, that he's certainly capable of producing for the Devils.

"I feel like it's going pretty good," said Pickens Wednesday on his development as a slot receiver within the offense. "We've got a lot of depth, a lot of really good receivers. I'm just going out there and trying to work hard and get better everyday."

Pickens' hard work has certainly not gone without recognition. Not only has he seen the field more in 2011, but he's also become a more popular target for quarterback Brock Osweiler as opposing teams look to stop some of the other downfield Sun Devil threats.

"Me and Brock, we've got a good relationship," he said about his rapport with the signal caller. "He's always telling me I'm doing well and that I'm getting better with my routes. He tells me to keep my head up all the time, and when I get out on the field, just to look to make big plays."

Big plays have become somewhat of a specialty for Pickens so far this season. While he may only have nine receptions to date, four of those have been for seventeen or more yards, as Pickens has proven to be a potent weapon underneath for Devils.

"I'm just going out there and trying to help my team win," said a smiling Pickens. "Whatever I can do, that's what I do. Whenever I get my chance, I just try to make the best of it."

Last Saturday against UCLA, the Chino, California native got a chance to return home and show family members and friends just what he can do when given the chance. Pickens hauled in his second touchdown catch of the year, as he weaved through the Bruins defense for a 35 yard score early in the contest.

"It was good," exclaimed Pickens on the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl last weekend. "I mean a lot of my family was there for the game that lives around there. I just wanted to play good for them, and for the team, and show everyone what I can do out there."

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they weren't able to sustain that level of success, falling to UCLA in a critical conference matchup. The loss, while disappointing, seems to have given ASU a new chip on their shoulder as they've gotten back on the practice field this week in preparation for their upcoming showdown with Washington State.

"Yeah, I think so," said Pickens. "I mean, UCLA's a really good team, but we've just got to focus on the next game and try to forget about the past. This week's a big game, plus it's going to be a bit cold up there. We've just got to stay focused and try to get ready for this game."

After a lengthy film session, the Sun Devils are well aware of the challenge the Cougars pose, especially given the potential weather conditions. Needless to say, it's not an opponent they'll be taking lightly this time around, clearly aware of the game's significance.

"They look like they play very similar to UCLA. We'll have to do a lot of fast tempo type stuff, and if our receivers can get open, we've just got to catch the ball. It's going to be cold up there, so I think we'll run the ball quite a bit and then look to pass the ball around some.

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