OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Buried on the St. Louis depth chart at the start of his fourth NFL season, Chris Givens became suspicious when he heard from an old college teammate a couple weeks ago.
Ravens wide receiver and fellow Wake Forest product Michael Campanaro had reached out to the speedy wideout to tell him that the Baltimore coaching staff had been asking about him, a sure sign that general manager Ozzie Newsome was interested in acquiring the Rams’ 2012 fourth-round pick. With rookie Breshad Perriman sidelined since the start of training camp with a knee injury, the Ravens were in need of a vertical threat in their passing game.
“I just thought it was talk,” said Givens, who was acquired from the Rams in exchange for a 2016 seventh-round pick on Saturday. “But once things started getting weird around Rams Park, I knew something was up. I basically just didn’t practice [last] Tuesday through Friday, so I knew something was up.”
When an NFL player is acquired in the middle of a season, there’s generally an acclimation period of a week or two to learn a new system before being thrown into the fire of competition. But the Ravens don’t have that luxury with both No. 1 receiver Steve Smith (back) and Perriman expected to miss Sunday’s game against Cleveland.
Baltimore hopes Givens can provide the ability to stretch the field in the passing game while potentially providing another option to replace the injured Campanaro at kick returner. Barring other roster moves, the Ravens will need him to serve as no worse than the No. 4 receiver against the Browns with quarterback Joe Flacco missing so many other pass-catching targets.
Averaging 16.3 yards per catch in his career, Givens expressed confidence in his ability to learn a new offense, saying the biggest challenge was adjusting to new terminology after picking up the passing concepts of offensive coordinator Marc Tresetman.
“He’s going to be out there on Sunday,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “How much he plays depends on how well he does. I’m really hopeful that he plays a lot. It’ll be up to him and how well he can learn what we’re doing.”
The 6-foot wideout only had one reception in the Rams’ first three games this season, but his 1,433 career receiving yards are more than Baltimore’s other healthy receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Darren Waller — have combined (1,303). Givens, a 2012 fourth-round pick out of Wake Forest, enjoyed his best season as a rookie when he caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three touchdowns.
However, the 25-year-old’s numbers had declined every year since as he struggled to catch the football consistently and other St. Louis receivers leapfrogged him on the depth chart. Givens quipped that he now has a “potato” — not a chip — on his shoulder coming to Baltimore.
“It was very frustrating,” said Givens about his last couple seasons with the Rams. “I knew I was a guy that could complement the team and play well. I don’t know if it wasn’t the right fit or they liked other guys or whatever the case may be, because after the first year, my opportunities just went down.”
The Ravens certainly hope he can recapture the success he found early in his career with St. Louis.
Not lacking confidence, Givens will be given every opportunity to carve out a meaningful role with the banged-up Ravens as he praised the talents of Flacco. The pair will be challenged to build a rapport in a short period of time, but Flacco said the receiver’s speed jumped out immediately in their first couple practices together.
“It can be explosive,” said Givens of the chance to catch deep passes from Flacco. “It’s one of those things that you’ve just got to take advantage of the talents and opportunities. I’m just looking forward to doing that.”