EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Last offseason, St. Louis Rams receiver Chris Givens told anyone willing to listen that he was making the changes necessary to eliminate any obstacles that could keep him from reaching his NFL goals.
By the time the 2013 season was over, Givens realized that some of that time was spent trying to convince himself that he'd truly devoted himself to football or that the alterations he'd made were enough. They weren't.
For the first time in his football-playing career, Givens failed to score a touchdown. In a season where Givens was supposed to emerge as the team's top receiving target, his numbers dipped to 34 catches and 569 yards.
In nearly every sense of the word, Givens' sophomore campaign was a disappointment. It was enough to have him up at 4:45 Monday morning to meet with a "body coach" who could help him prepare for the first day of the team's offseason conditioning program.
"Coming off zero touchdowns? This has 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 just really have been waiting for this day for the longest."
Looking for some help, Givens reached out to soon-to-be Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams -- the former Ram, current St. Louis-based pastor and mentor to many. Givens knew he needed something that was different than what he did coming out of his rookie season.
After that 2012 season, Williams recommended to Givens that he go to Arizona and train with the man who trained him, Mack Newton. Newton has a long history of working with top professional athletes using old-school techniques based on a more holistic approach to training. Givens said no.
Offered the same counsel this year, Givens didn't hesitate.
"Aeneas tried to get me to go to him last offseason but I was so cocky last offseason I don’t even know," Givens said. "This year I just kind of knew I needed something else and talking to Aeneas, it sounded like I needed Mack so I just took him up on his advice."
Givens went to Arizona to work with Newton, who has trained other top athletes such as Bo Jackson, Rickey Henderson and Charles Barkley. Former Cardinals receiver/defensive back Roy Green also was available to help Givens.
The 68-year old Newton does things a little different, the type of different that Givens said he needed. Instead of heavy weightlifting work, Givens did plenty of running. Before each session, Givens and Newton would take part in deeper conversations focused on things like spirituality and how to set goals.
With Green, Givens spent his days learning more of the nuances of route running, including the basic tenets of how to remain patient and set up defenders rather than trying to run by everyone.
Williams also put Givens in contact with the most distinguished of former Rams receivers, Isaac Bruce. Givens made it a point to stay in touch with Bruce, seeking advice on things he'd see when he watched film or ways to better prepare during the offseason.
In many ways, Arizona transformed from the desert to Givens' personal oasis, away from any temptations or opportunities to go the wrong way.
"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 they can 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."
Givens also spent the past few months getting healthy. He played through most of the season with nagging ankle and shoulder injuries with the ankle ailment hampering him for most of the season.
On Monday, he returned to St. Louis clearly excited to get back to work and eager to show he's the player who flashed promise in 2012 rather than the one who regressed in 2013.
From the Rams' perspective, there is still plenty of room for one of their young wideouts to step forward and prove capable of being quarterback Sam Bradford's top option on a consistent basis. It's a role many believed Givens would begin to grasp last year.
Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have consistently voiced confidence in the young receiver corps throughout the offseason but they also went out and signed free-agent wideout Kenny Britt, perhaps signaling they'd like more help at the position.
Either way, Givens still has plenty of opportunity in front of him. Whether he takes advantage remains to be seen but this time around the task isn't to talk about it but to be about it.
"I have some big goals and I have a lot of things I needed to change in my life," Givens said. "And just I really made football my No. 1 priority and that’s all I have been doing is working on my body, getting in shape to run, not running to get in shape and just doing things the right way so I can be durable throughout my career."