As Vernon Hargreaves III becomes more comfortable in his role at outside corner – a position he thrived in at Florida but only recently started playing full-time in Tampa Bay – Bucs’ coaches expect him to become more aggressive against receivers.
Coach Dirk Koetter said Hargreaves “did fine” last Sunday, but recalled telling him on the sideline at one point to “get up in there” and “challenge” the receivers a little more, particularly in zone coverage. Hargreaves admitted as much later in open locker, saying he let up a few quick throws underneath and needs to press more in the future.
“I gave up a few hitches in front of me, eight, nine yards,” Hargreaves said. “Nothing big, but [coach Koetter] expects me to go up and challenge those throws. And that’s what I mean when I say I have to find a way to make plays. I have to challenge those short throws. I’m good enough, so I just have to go compete.”
To be exact, Hargreaves gave up three quick slants over consecutive drives – two nine-yard passes to Emmanuel Sanders before halftime and an 11-yard hitch to Demaryius Thomas on the opening series of the third quarter.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith deflected attention away from Hargreaves when asked about playing too loose at times, saying the entire defense needed to press a little more in certain situations. Ultimately, Smith said, it’s about understanding the circumstance and knowing when to press or sit back as a defense and surrender a few yards in front.
“There was a couple of times that we were probably too aggressive and we missed some tackles,” Smith said. “But I think overall, as a unit, we need to be more in-tune to when we can be aggressive and challenge. That’s the most important thing for us in the secondary right now.”
The Bucs secondary, while solid for the most part last Sunday, has had its slip ups this year. Along with giving up explosive plays (six passes for at least 40 yards in four weeks), they’ve allowed an average of 258 yards through the air a game, a yard more than Carolina – which allowed 503 last Sunday. Of course the backend of the defense isn’t all to blame – coaches have said repeatedly that a strong pass rush can be your best coverage – but there are definitely steps to be made in the secondary.
Hargreaves, for his part, said he enjoys being on the outside where he feels more at home. There’s still a learning curve, he said, but the game isn’t too big for him after a four-week sample size.
Smith has “no doubt” the former Gator can handle the outside and give the Bucs flexibility.
“He’s been put in a tougher situations when we’ve asked him to play inside because he’s so used to being the outside corner. That’s where he’s played the majority of his time there at the University of Florida,” Smith said. “He’s got the skill set to be able to go inside and outside, and again, I think as we progress and grow as a defensive football team it’s going to give us some flexibility.
“We are not as flexible as we’d like to be. We’ve not gone on and advanced quite as well as I would’ve like, and again, I’m learning these guys, they’re learning me and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do on Monday night.”
So is Hargreaves, who will occasionally line up against former Florida State rival and current Panthers’ No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Hargreaves, who recalled giving up his first TD pass to Benjamin and called the 6-foot-5 pro great competitor, is looking forward to his first NFL Primetime game – but the national stage is nothing new.
“I’m not really too concerned about who’s watching. I am, but I’m not, if that makes sense. Coming from Florida I had a lot of big games, a lot of people watching so it’s not a big deal for me,” Hargreaves said.
“But it is exciting to be playing my first Monday Night game. I’ve dreamed of it just like everyone else has. For me as a little kid, I was thinking, man I have to go to school tomorrow and they don’t. That’s really how I was thinking about it.”