Unable to crack the first-team offense behind Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, and Tavon Austin, Chris Givens is dealing with issues of his own.
Nonetheless, the third-year wide receiver is hurting for quarterback Sam Bradford, out for the season with a knee injury.
“It’s just tough to see a guy like that get hurt again, especially with that type of injury,” Givens said. “Just because you’ve watched him all offseason put in the work.
“You just saw a change in his whole demeanor, that he really wanted it this year. And just to see that happen to a friend and a teammate, it kind of hurts your heart a little bit. Really, that’s a tough pill to swallow because you know what he’s going through.”
Few know what Bradford is experiencing like Givens, because he’s basically been through the same thing.
Bradford faces the arduous task of undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament for the second year in a row after going down in the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason game in Cleveland.
The same thing happened to Givens as a high school player at Wylie (Texas) High. Namely, ACL injuries in back-to-back seasons. The only difference is that Givens’ injuries came one to each knee. Bradford’s injuries were both to his left knee.
“I remember the process and everything he’s going through in his mind,” Givens said. “So I texted him with some friendly words. Letting him know that all this happens for a reason, and God’s got a plan for it. And if he just stays positive and keeps working, he’ll be fine.”
Givens called going through the grueling rehab process “the toughest thing I’ve had to go through so far — just because of how much I love football.”
He added: “My last two years of high school I had to sit out and watch my team play without me. That was the toughest part because we were so close, and we all battled together in camp and all those things.
“It just made me that much more hungry, and it’s still part of my motivation to this day. It’s one of those things you’ve got to look at like what can I learn from this? What is God trying to tell me? Once you figure that out, you’ve just got to move out in a positive direction.”
One of Givens’ ACL injuries came in the open field when he was about to score a touchdown on a kickoff return.
“And my knee just blew out,” he said. “You’ve just got to cherish every moment. You’ve got to come to practice, and you’ve got to show up on game day fearless because that’s what God puts in you. He doesn’t want you out there being fearful, anything like that.”
Givens overcame those injuries to play at Wake Forest in college, and after running in the low 4.3s at the NFL scouting combine, was drafted in the fourth round by the Rams in 2012.
“My rehab process, I was real aggressive with it,” Givens said. “As soon I could walk, I started doing track workouts.”
Was he allowed to do that medically?
“I wasn’t supposed to,” Givens said with a wink. “Being 17, my doctor was like: ‘All the hard work is done, your knee is good. Now just go get in the best shape you can possibly be.’
“I ended up setting the (high school) record in Texas with 10.09 (in the 100 meters) in like 5½ months.”
As for his spot on the Rams’ current depth chart, Givens said he is rolling with the punches.
“I really have no choice but to,” he said. “I can’t really put any effort into anything that I can’t control. And I can’t control how many reps I get, or any of that. I just make sure I’m ready when my number is called.”
He was ready Saturday in Cleveland, catching two passes for 94 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.
“I saw the coverage pre-snap, and I knew if I got the ball, I had a chance for a really good play,” Givens said.
On the touchdown, Givens caught a short pass from Austin Davis a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage, turned up field and outran the Cleveland defense for the score.
“No one is catching me this year,” Givens said.
You can’t teach speed, and that’s what Givens brings to the table first and foremost.
“That was evident the other night,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “You catch a little 4-yard route and you go 75 yards, and you’re just like ‘Wow.’ But yeah, every time he’s on the field he’s got a chance to make a big play happen for us.”
Schottenheimer indicated that Givens’ spot on the second unit has more to do with Britt and Quick playing at a high level than any shortcomings by Givens.
“So it’s not that Chris has gone up or down,” Schottenheimer said. “We’ve built this thing where we’ve got a lot of good players. So we’re trying to roll as many guys in.”
But Schottenheimer did indicate there are areas where the Rams would like to see improvement, and that Givens has responded.
“We’ve seen (improvement) in terms of some of the route running,” Schottenheimer said. “Even in the run game, where he’s in there and he’s gotta dig out a safety and stuff.
“He’s turned it on the last two or three weeks. So I don’t know if him coming off the bench has been good for him. Or just him saying, ‘Hey, I need to make sure that I’m doing the things the coaches have asked me to do.’”