Entering his first full offseason as a professional football player,
The growth Givens had in mind wasn’t limited to something as simple as perfecting a route or shaving a hundredth of a second off his 40 time. No, Givens wanted his offseason to be about making all the right choices on and off the field that would allow him to mature into a better, more well-rounded football player and person.
Following the offseason departures of fellow wideouts Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, Givens is the team’s leading returning receiver in yards (698) and yards per catch (16.6) and tied for first in catches (42).
Considering those numbers and an apparent comfort with quarterback
“It’s a big opportunity,” Givens said. “I am working each day to try to maximize that. That’s all I am focused on is just taking advantage of my opportunity because it’s the one I have been waiting on.”
To maximize his chance to emerge as a top target for Bradford or perhaps even the top target, Givens knew that he’d have to find ways to better himself even when he wasn’t at Rams Park during the offseason.
Givens has regularly impressed with his work on the practice field during the Organized Team Activities, particularly when it comes to the deep ball, an area he excelled even as a rookie.
But that strong impression wouldn’t have been possible without the things Givens and some of his fellow receivers have been doing in the offseason.
For young players, the time spent away from a training facility can be perilous and it’s important to develop an understanding of ways to fill the sudden free time.
“We have got a little training facility out there that we all work out at and we all just worked out and just had fun with each other,” Givens said. “AP just really showed me and Quick how to approach the offseason and how to do things as a pro. That was the biggest thing for us was learning what to do with all this free time that we had never had before.”
Givens said he and his teammates made sure to spend plenty of time sleeping, playing video games and doing things that are fun but “not too risky” to help pass the time when they weren’t working out.
The trio even spent some time working out with other pros and former pros, including potential Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens. Owens has long been known for a work ethic second to none in terms of working out and preparing to play.
“He’s still doing the same things he was doing 10 years ago,” Givens said. “That’s what’s great about TO. He came every day prepared to work and I just learned so much just from watching him work on his craft and watch how he approaches his day. That’s something I want to incorporate into my game as well.”
The final results won’t come until the season but early returns are strong for Givens, who made it a point to put on some added bulk in the offseason. He said he’s gained a few pounds, pushing his weight just north of 200 pounds and is noticeably stronger.
Givens said he believed the added strength and weight would allow him to be more dynamic athletically but also help him reach his main focus this offseason which is to diversify his game a bit and increase his versatility.
“That’s one thing I wanted to work on was getting a little bigger, getting a little stronger and more explosive,” Givens said. “I also wanted to work on my intermediate routes and do things to get more flexible. Really I want to be the best football player I can be and I’m doing everything to try to do that.”
Givens burst on to the scene as a rookie by virtue of his sprinter’s speed and ability to be an instant home run threat. He set an NFL rookie record for consecutive games with a 50-plus yard reception with five such catches during the first half of the season.
After Givens’ deep ball skill became more known, teams began to work harder to take it away, leaving Givens to take advantage of more underneath stuff.
By the end of the season, 27 of Givens’ 42 receptions had come either behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of it. He had six grabs of 21-plus yards, leaving just nine catches between 11 and 20 yards.
So when Givens went back and looked at ways to improve, the intermediate routes jumped out to him and he set about finding ways to be more effective in that range.
“It’s a big step for me,” Givens said. “It’s just something the coaches have stressed that I have to get better at and it’s one thing I have put the pressure on myself to get better at as well and I feel like I’m progressing pretty well so far.”
Bradford, who developed a quick rapport with Givens once he got adjusted to his blazing speed, has seen a player committed to becoming a top receiver in the league capable of doing a little bit of everything for the offense.
Asked about Givens’ development, Bradford quickly points out that Givens has been moving all over the offense, playing more than just his usual ‘Z’ receiver spot and working in the slot or even going to the opposite side to play the ‘X’ spot.
Givens has quickly adapted to any position he’s been asked to play and that has allowed him to expand his route acumen.
“I expect Chris to have a great year,” Bradford said. “He works extremely hard. I think one of the most impressive things about him these past couple weeks, is we’re starting to move him around, too. He’s a really, really smart football player. He understands the game. He understands our offense. I think by moving him to different spots in our offense, he’ll be able to run more routes. There are only so many routes you can run from one position, but when you move him to two or three different spots, you can incorporate him in the whole offense. It just gives him the opportunity to run different routes and be in different spots.”
Givens is also excited by the addition of more receiving weapons such as tight end
It also doesn’t hurt that Givens is now in his second year in the offense and second year with Bradford, allowing him to process information fast and translate it quickly to physical performance.
“I feel so much better,” Givens said. “Everything is just so much slower. I have a better grasp of the offense and everything that is going on. It’s light years from last year to this year for me.”