Incoming draft picks are warned each year at the NFL’s rookie symposium about the importance of managing their personal lives as professional athletes.
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Chris Givens wishes he had immediately followed the advice that was given.
It’s not that Givens had a poor debut with St. Louis in 2012. Givens was among the most productive wide receivers in his draft class, with 42 receptions for 698 yards and three touchdowns. He was especially dangerous as a deep threat, becoming the first rookie in league history with a catch of at least 50 yards in five consecutive games.
But Givens, 23, believes he could have hit even greater heights with more dedication to football and fewer off-field distractions.
“There are a lot of things I felt I could have done better if I was more focused, like catching the ball better,” Givens told co-host Gil Brandt and me Saturday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“Early in the year, I didn’t really make the catches I thought I could have made. Just simple, little mistakes I shouldn’t have made.
“This offseason, I just took it upon myself to get my life right off the field so when it’s time to play football, I’m all in and can focus on that.”
Among those changes: Distancing himself from some of the people he was associating with and scaling back his social life.
“Once you get to this level, you have all this freedom and you’re basically living your dream,” said Givens, a fourth-round pick from Wake Forest. “Sometimes, you could just want to do too much and not focus on your job. Even though I’m playing football, it’s my job. You really have to draw that line.
“I did that in the offseason when I should have done it in the summer of last year. I let everybody know, ‘Look, this is my life and career. I have a goal in mind of what I want to do. For the next 10 or 12 years, this is what I’m going to be focused on. When I have time for other things, that’s when I’ll deal with it.’ ”
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said he has noticed a difference with Givens, who was suspended along with cornerback Janoris Jenkins before a game last November against San Francisco for violating team rules. Sports Illustrated reported that Givens and Jenkins had both broken curfew.
“That’s kind of the defining moment for a lot of players — Year 1 and Year 2 and the choices you make between the two years,” Fisher said. “If you can admit to some of the distractions and put them behind as you move into year two, it ends up being easier.”
Givens was one of the Rams’ best players in last Thursday’s preseason opener against Cleveland. He caught three passes for 82 yards — including a 59-yard grab and a three-yard score from quarterback Sam Bradford — in a 27-19 loss.
“He’s got great speed,” Fisher said after Saturday’s training-camp practice at Rams headquarters. “He’s really developing the other part of the route tree, the intermediate things and quick stuff. He’s got real good hand-eye coordination and he’s explosive.”
It’s now on Givens to make sure that potential doesn’t go to waste.
“I think I’ve gotten off to a pretty good start so far (in training camp),” Givens said. “I’m just trying to stay consistent with all my techniques and routes and work to be the best overall player I can be.”