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It wasn’t until Week 8 against Amari Cooper and the Oakland Raiders that Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves got his “Welcome to the NFL” moment.

Despite facing receivers like Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin and Demaryius Thomas in the weeks prior, it was the receiver tandem of Cooper and Michael Crabtree that forced him to take a step back.

“That Oakland game and that Atlanta game, that was the ‘Welcome to the NFL’ game,” Hargreaves said. “Both of those games, I had a rough one. But my confidence doesn’t falter. I got comfortable, I learned from it.”

The Bucs defense gave up a combined 859 passing yards in that two-game span with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr setting a franchise record with 513 in a 30-24 overtime win over Tampa Bay.

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III and Raiders WR Amari Cooper - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III and Raiders WR Amari Cooper – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Five days later, the Bucs defense allowed 43 points to the division-rival Falcons.

It was a low point for Hargreaves and one for the team as a whole, but it allowed the team — primarily the defense — to sit back and assess the situation.

Since that Week 9 Thursday night bout with the Falcons, the Bucs have won four straight, forced 11 turnovers and allowed an average of 13.3 points per game.

For Hargreaves, it was the defensive leaders in the secondary that helped him move past the rough outings and help turn the defense around.

“The guys had my back, they told me not to worry about it,” Hargreaves said. “Brent [Grimes], long-time vet, told me, ‘Let it go. Let it go or it’s going to kill you.’ After that, I just started to have fun with it.

“That’s what I do, that’s when I play my best and it’s working out for me.”

Hargreaves and company have helped spark a revitalized defense during this four-game streak. Despite the lack of experience at this level, the 21-year-old rookie is beginning to develop the mindset needed to excel.

“He’s always had the skills and the talent, but his maturity is what’s changing him,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said of Hargreaves. “He’s starting to mature and develop into an NFL player. I’ve seen so many players that have had just as much talent as the people who last in this league, but mentally, if you don’t have it, that’s when you see guys like, ‘Man, what happened to that guy, he wasn’t there mentally.’

“Vernon is mentally growing up, he’s maturing and it’s starting to show on the field and that’s what’s gonna make him good for a long time.”

But it hasn’t been easy — though rarely, if ever, do rookies make it through their first season without these speed bumps.

Once in Tampa, Hargreaves, who was primarily an outside, shutdown corner at Florida, had to become more versatile and play positions outside his comfort zone.

“It was tough to play both,” said Hargreaves who plays snaps at both nickel and outside corner. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be. But, you know, I’m kind of glad that they threw me in the fire like that because now I know. I basically know the whole defense now.

“I can really play anywhere and that’s exciting for me. I know what everybody’s doing around me.”

Once a defense struggling to hang in games, the Bucs have transformed into an opportunistic defense that has smothered offenses in recent weeks.

To Hargreaves, the secondary played a large role in flipping that switch.

“We’ve been huge; great improvement from the beginning of the year,” Hargreaves said. “Like I said, we’re all finally starting to understand it, really understand what the defense is and where we’re supposed to be. We’re making plays on the ball, and hopefully we can keep that going as well.”

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About the Author: Jacob Hoag

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5 years ago

The dawn is breaking on a new world, a jungle world in which lean spirits roam with sharp claws. If I am a hyena I am a lean and hungry one: I go forth to fatten myself – Henry Miller. When Rick Stroud interviewed Vernon Hargreaves following the Chargers’ game, Hargreaves said this “You know, they say I laugh like a hyena. I thought that was pretty funny. A few people on Instagram want to call me the Hyena now. Yeah, that’s cool. But everybody liked it, and I’m going to keep it up.” Well, there you have it! The… Read more »

Reply to  macabee
5 years ago

You know Mac I don’t dig the miked up so much. But, Hargraves made me smile. I thought to myself, self, when was the last time you had that much fun.
Did you remember that quote from your college days?
Thank you for piquing my curiosity. Henry Miller here I come.

Reply to  macabee
5 years ago

I remember studying Hyenas in college during an animal physiology class. We watched a documentary about what amounted to a war between a pack of Hyenas and a pride of lions. What people don’t know is that the Hyena is thought to have intelligence on par with primates. They display behavior that is thought to include counting and other advanced reason. But what I was struck by and remember to this day was the brutality of that boarder war with the lions. They killed lions that invaded their territory and didn’t do it to eat them. I’m not advocating that… Read more »

Reply to  macabee
5 years ago

Let’s see; hyenas and the “Tropic of Capricorn”. You’ve outdone yourself this time Mac. I was trying to combine the two into a football analogy, but couldn’t pull it off without being censored for perversion.

5 years ago

Vernon “hyena” Hargreaves…. has a nice ring to it. Big weekend with Brees. Those saints have had a lot of success against us recently. So pumped. Buc ’em boys.

5 years ago

Macabee, all I can say after that quote, is you, sir., humble me,

5 years ago

No “Gravedigger”??? Laying one WR to rest at a time…

5 years ago

At Florida when Hargraves started the DC was Quinn who later built the Seahawks’ formidable defense and now is HC of the Falcons, so Hargraves had great talent that was mentally molded by Quinn, who had NFL experience before he went to the Gators as DC. The Bucs were brilliant in picking Hargraves, thanks Licht, and also signing Grimes to help mentor him. It is all paying off now! Go Bucs!!!

Mb Nfl Double Your First Deposit Football Team Vs Bucs Pewter 728x90 Jpg