Bengals wide receiver Carl Pickens leads the AFC in catches, but he's content to let publicity slip through his fingers. After a game he is apt to snap "Go away!" to an approaching reporter, even before a question is asked. His coach, Bruce Coslet, admits that when he met Pickens in 1994, "I thought Carl was a jerk."
Now Coslet sees Pickens's testiness as a manifestation of his intense desire to win. When Coslet took over the 1-6 Bengals on Oct. 21, he challenged the team's veteran players to step up and "make a statement." Pickens's response has been loud and clear: 56 catches for 651 yards and nine touchdowns as Cincinnati has won six of eight.
A second-round pick out of Tennessee in 1992, the 6'2", 206-pound Pickens uses his speed and his 7-foot high-jumping ability to advantage. With 94 catches—five fewer than the team record he set last season—he is closing in on back-to-back AFC receiving titles. And over the last three years Pickens has hooked up with quarterback Jeff Blake for 35 TDs, making them the league's top scoring duo. "I'm not always the easiest person to get along with," says Pickens. "I'm not trying to scare anybody, but I like my space." Just ask any reporter, or any defensive back.