Tampa Bay’s second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has come under fire this season – and not just from opposing quarterbacks. Hargeaves has also taken some friendly fire from his coaches over his poor play, too.
Pro Football Focus currently rates Hargreaves, who has surrendered 404 passing yards and three touchdowns this season, as the No. 110 ranked cornerback in the NFL with a grade of 38.4.
According to PFF, Hargreaves allowed 50 passing yards against Arizona, which was actually his second-lowest yardage allowed of the year, but he allowed a catch on every pass thrown his way and played terribly soft against the run, missing three tackles. Hargreaves allowed Adrian Peterson’s 17-yard run to bounce outside of his contain in the first quarter. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the next play, and Peterson gained 57 yards of his 134 yards rushing on eight carries off left end, targeting Hargreaves, who was playing right cornerback.
Last Wednesday prior to the Arizona game, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith revealed that Hargreaves’ penchant for giving up too much cushion was the cornerback’s own doing, and not part of his defensive scheme.
On Monday, Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter said that he was “extremely” concerned about Hargreaves’ play.
“Vern is not in a very good streak of games right now,” Koetter said. “We asked Vern to be more aggressive this year and to be more aggressive with his coverage and he started out doing that. He started out doing that in OTAs and training camp, but he has not played his best football these last three games.”
Smith agreed with Koetter’s sentiment on Wednesday.
Later that day in the open locker room session, Hargreaves joined the chorus.
“Definitely being more aggressive,” Hargreaves said. “At the end of the day I’ve got to make more plays. I’ve just got to make more plays. It’s plain and simple. It’s not rocket science.”
Hargreaves has been targeted 37 times this season and has just one pass defense. In 21 starts in Tampa Bay the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2016 has recorded just one interception.
“He should be,” Hargreaves said when asked if Smith was upset with him. “I’m not making any plays, I’m not producing. This league is about production.”
When asked what specifically he and his teammates have to do to halt a two-game losing streak and beat Buffalo on Sunday to improve to 3-3, Hargreaves said:
“We’ve got to tackle better. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to get our hands on more balls.
“I know this business. I know what I have to do to get better. I know what I have to do to start making more plays. It’s on me. I have to make more plays.”
Hargreaves was asked why he gives up so much cushion to opposing receivers when that’s not called for in Smith’s defense.
“That’s a good question and that’s just something on the field or something I’m seeing or something that I think might happen,” Hargreaves said. “It’s a hard question to answer, to give you a direct answer. That’s something I have to watch on film and realize I have to scoot up some more.”
Hargreaves realizes that he’ll be targeted plenty playing opposite Brent Grimes, but he has to improve.
“Of course,” Hargreaves said. “I wouldn’t throw at that guy, either.”
“He was the most targeted corner in the NFL last year according to some statistical analysis,” Smith said. “I’ve mentioned it many times, when you have a guy like Brent Grimes on one side, you’re going to get targeted. As a coaching staff we have to do a better job of making sure we can level the playing field in terms of how we approach it. We can’t just put it on one player. It’s has to come down us helping him as best we can.”
If he doesn’t turn it around quickly, Hargreaves may find himself on the bench in favor of veteran Robert McClain or second-year cornerback Ryan Smith.