A year ago at this time following a successful rookie season, Rams wide receiver Chris Givens described himself as cocky.
But after a sophomore slump in which his receptions and reception yards decreased, and his touchdowns disappeared entirely, Givens says he’s a humbled man entering his third NFL season.
“Oh yeah. Zero touchdowns?” Givens said. “That’s never happened; never happened in my career. That’s something that I look at it now, and I’m like God got my attention with that.”
Givens, a fourth-round pick from Wake Forest in 2012, had a modest three TD catches as a rookie, but he also had a rookie record of five consecutive games with a reception of 50 yards or more. He led the Rams with 698 yards receiving, a total exceeded by only three rookies that season.
But getting skunked in 2013 in terms of TDs, that was unfathomable to the speedy Givens.
“Looking back on it, that would’ve been the only thing to get my attention,” he said. “That’s what had to happen so I could have the focus and dedication and drive that I have now.”
So to say Givens was anxious to get back to Rams Park for Monday’s start of the offseason program would be understatement.
“It’s been the longest offseason of my life,” Givens said. “It’s just a constant reminder every day of what I didn’t accomplish — all because I got in my own way. So I’ve been waiting for this day for the longest (time).”
The proof of course will come in September and beyond, when the regular season starts. But Givens has taken a lot of steps to get his game back on track since the 2013 finale against Seattle when he didn’t have a single catch. He decided that he had to make changes in his life and make football his No. 1 priority.
“When I was young, I felt like I was trying to do too much, please too many people,” he said. “Saying ‘yes’ too much. Being afraid to let my light shine because of how it made someone else feel. So I humbled myself and made football my job. Made it a priority. And I just started writing goals and doing a lot of things.”
Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams has been a mentor of Givens for some time. After Williams told Givens he reminded him of Isaac Bruce, that led to Givens getting in touch with the former Rams wide receiver great.
“I just talk to Isaac about anything,” Givens said. “If I’m watching film from a game, I’m like, ‘what can I do to beat this?’ He gives me little tips. On how to set goals. Or what was your mentality approaching the offseason? And things like that.”
Givens, who was suspended by coach Jeff Fisher for one game as a rookie, hasn’t always surrounded himself with the best crowd. He spent most of this offseason in the Phoenix area, in part to separate himself from possible distractions.
“That was the main idea,” Givens said. “I just had to get away from anybody and anything that wasn’t completely focused on being the best that they could be, day in and day out. When you take your focus to that level, there’s not a lot of people that have that same focus. So I just had to do what was best for me and the team at this point.”
In Arizona he worked with longtime fitness and martial arts instructor Mack Newton. Givens described him as “this 68-year-old trainer. ... Old school. No weight-lifting. He works on building you up from the inside-out. Before every class, we’d sit down and talk for like an hour, just about spiritual things, and having the proper self-esteem.”
Williams, who has worked with Newton, suggested Givens see Newton a year ago. “But I was so cocky,” Givens said. “ ‘I don’t need Mack. I can do it myself.’ “
That changed this year. While in Arizona, Givens also worked with another former NFL receiving great — former St. Louis and Arizona Cardinal Roy Green. (Green also has trained with Newton.)
“Working with Roy, he was a guy with a lot of speed when he played, and patience was the biggest thing he had to learn,” Givens said. “We went through every route on the route tree, and he pointed out when I should be patient, when I shouldn’t be patient, on every single route.”
By now, Givens has put the frustration of last season behind him, a season that included a shoulder injury and an especially nagging ankle injury. Givens didn’t miss any games but said the ankle injury required a lot of maintenance and bothered him most of the year.
“My goals right now are to be really involved with the team, and to really embrace the whole concept of team,” Givens said. “And just to be a leader. Be a finisher. Be a catalyst. To do everything I need to do to put my body in the best position to start (training) camp.”