The Bucs placed Vernon Hargreaves III on injured reserve Wednesday, first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
This marks the latest setback for the former first-round pick, who hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring against the Jets in Week 10. Despite a rocky sophomore season, defensive coordinator Mike Smith sees a promising future for Hargreaves.
“I think Vernon has a great mindset,” Smith said on Wednesday. “He’s been working his tail off to get back on the field. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been out there to help us play at the level we need to play at but I think the future is very bright for Vernon, both inside and outside.”
Earlier in the season Hargreaves was demoted from outside cornerback to nickel. The move was the result of few tumultuous games – namely at Minnesota and against the Giants – that left head coach Dirk Koetter “extremely” unsettled about the former Gator’s apparent regression. Lack of aggression in coverage was the main point of concern.
Smith said Hargreaves “embraced” the position change and improved in the inside roll. He set a low bar, to be sure, but Hargreaves’ performance in subsequent games nevertheless backed Smith’s assessment.
While he didn’t record an interception – he has just one in 25 career starts – he fared much better the following two weeks. In Buffalo Hargreaves didn’t allow a reception on just four targets. Against Carolina, where he had shifted back to the right side with Robert McClain out with a concussion, he was targeted seven times and allowed just two completions for 13 yards.
Smith suggested that before the injury, Hargreaves was beginning to grasp the concept of the defense while lined up on the outside. That understanding, combined with his maturity and dedication, are what gives Smith confidence in the second-year pro moving forward.
“He’s got the mental makeup to let things roll off [his] back. When you play corner, it’s like being the quarterback – everybody sees your mistake,” Smith said, adding that a few perceived mistakes weren’t all his fault. He believes that Hargreaves can “absolutely” return to his original spot on the outside.
Koetter, for his part, wasn’t about to guarantee positions for 2018. The next two games for the Bucs could determine more than just Hargreaves’ future.
“Everyone will be evaluated at the end of the year,” Koetter said. “We have a short week as it is and everything is focused on Carolina. We’ll address all that stuff at the appropriate time.”