Before they even met each other, Vernon Hargreaves III had a fan in new Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. Now Hargreaves has expressed that the feeling is mutual.
After back-to-back 5-11 seasons, the Bucs hired the 66-year old Arians to change things in Tampa Bay, including a defense that could be described as below average at best. Part of that plan was hiring Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator and switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Another part of his plan is to put Hargreaves, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, back to playing outside corner, where he is most comfortable at.
Arians expressed his confidence in Hargreaves at the NFL owner’s meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I have great confidence in Vernon,” Arians said. “If we have to take Vernon and put him at nickel, then I don’t know who that is yet [at outside cornerback]. So let’s find a nickel. Let’s leave Vernon outside where we know he can play and be effective and find a nickel. This is the only roster right now. I don’t know because I haven’t seen the young guys. I’ve seen them play cover two, quarters, I never saw them play man to man.”
Those comments meant everything to Hargreaves, who spoke with the media on Monday for the first time since going on injured reserve after hurting his shoulder in a Week 1 upset at New Orleans last year.
“What Coach Arians said the other day, I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Hargreaves with another very wide grin on his face. “I sent the link to everybody. It just makes me happy that the coaches here now understand – they understand what’s going on, they understand us as players, where guys should be and stuff like that, and I’m happy for that.”
Hargreaves only played one game last season after tearing his labrum in his shoulder that required off-season surgery. He says that he is 100 percent healthy now, and ready to get back onto the field.
Once he does get back on that field, he’s going to be playing outside press corner once again, which he feels is his best position. Hargreaves has played in the slot over the last two years, but that was because he was best available to the team and was willing to play anywhere. Now he’s back in his comfort zone.
“I like playing inside,” Hargreaves said. “I didn’t do it before my rookie year, but when I got drafted here they kind of were testing guys out and I just happened to be the best, truth be told, so they moved me inside. Like I said, I’m a football player, I don’t care where they put me at as long as I’m playing, but playing outside is what I want to do. That’s what I do.”
The fact that Arians went out of his way to compliment him publicly before even meeting the young cornerback instilled a great deal of confidence in Hargreaves.
“I don’t have words for it,” Hargreaves said. “I don’t know why Coach Arians said that about me, but I love it. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t have to say anything about me, but I love it. That’s that confidence that I need. That’s that confidence that we need as a secondary, and we’re excited – the whole group is.”
Besides his goal of playing healthy for a full 16 games for the first time since his rookie season, Hargreaves wants to make good on his new coaches’ faith in him.
“I want to play for him now, this is where I want to be,” Hargreaves said. “This is always where I wanted to be, but when the head guy puts himself on the line for you, it kind of does something for you. I don’t really know how to explain it but it gives you a good feeling on the inside. It makes you want to play.”
Playing in a new system in which Hargreaves no longer has to play off the ball and can now go back to press coverage on the receiver reminds him his college days at Florida where he recorded 27 pass breakups and 10 interceptions as a three-year starter. Hargreaves couldn’t be more excited to get back to what he feels he does best.
“It’s everything that I do,” Hargreaves said. “It’s everything that I do well. It’s kind of like taking me back to college.”