Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tampa Bay’s secondary surrendered 31 passing touchdowns and allowed quarterbacks to complete 70 percent of their passes in Lovie Smith’s ill-conceived defensive scheme. New talent was brought in at the cornerback position in Pro Bowler Brent Grimes and first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III to improve a position that had just two interceptions in 2015.
In PewterReport.com’s final pre-season Pewter Prediction, the Pewter Reporters were polled to find out who will lead Tampa Bay in interceptions this year.
Scott Reynolds’ 2016 Bucs’ Leading Interceptor: CB Vernon Hargreaves III
I’ll admit I had some reservations about Tampa Bay drafting another 5-foot-10 cornerback in April, but once I saw Hargreaves in Mike Smith’s defensive scheme, which asks its corners to backpedal and allow the defensive backs’ eyes to see underneath routes develop, I completely understand why Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht spent the 11th overall pick on the Florida standout. He’s a perfect fit in Smith’s system.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Hargreaves led the Bucs in interceptions during the OTAs, had a great showing in training camp and then was tied for the lead in the NFL during the preseason with two picks at Jacksonville. Blessed with great instincts and timing, along with keen awareness and a good vertical leap, Hargreaves is a natural ballhawk, and has quickly worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie.
Look for Hargreaves to split starting reps with Alterraun Verner at right cornerback and with Jude Adjei-Barimah inside at the slot position. He recorded an interception at Jacksonville playing the nickel position and then another one playing outside.
I’m picking Hargreaves to lead the Bucs in interceptions as a rookie with six interceptions. That would give him one more pick than the Tampa Bay rookie record, which is five, set by Donnie Abraham in 1996. A lot of quarterbacks will target a rookie cornerback as much as they can, so Hargreaves will get plenty of opportunities – and he’ll make them pay.
Mark Cook’s 2016 Bucs’ Leading Interceptor: CB Brent Grimes
One of the most amazing stats of 2015, and a telling sign of how poor Lovie Smith’s staff coached was the fact Bucs cornerbacks managed just two total interceptions last year. While some of that could possibly be blamed on the players themselves, it still is one of the strangest stats in Bucs team history. The organization believe they took care of all the possible reasons for 2015’s futility, first by firing Smith and his staff, but also bringing in a number of new players to try and regain some respectability.
Bucs CB Brent Grimes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Brent Grimes came over from the Dolphins and the multi-talented Pro Bowl cornerback, despite being outsized by virtually every receiver he will face in 2016, makes up for any size deficiency with stellar technique and smarts. At age 33, Grimes has plenty of experience from his time in the league, and in Mike Smith’s system from his playing days in Atlanta. That should help improve Tampa Bay’s secondary dramatically.
The Bucs didn’t rest after signing Grimes, instead signing former Minnesota cornerback Josh Robinson and then drafting Vernon Hargreaves III in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay also returns another crafty veteran in Alterraun Verner who seems to have a new spark and motivation after two mediocre years in Tampa.
The overall talent improvement should make the Bucs a much better defense this season and Grimes should be the beneficiary of the collective effort. Grimes is a bit of a gambler, and while he may also lead the team in giving up scores, that ball-hawking mentality will also pay off in five or six interceptions to lead the Bucs.
Zach Shapiro’s 2016 Bucs’ Leading Interceptor: CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Though it may change as the season progresses and Hargreaves commands more respect around the league, I believe quarterbacks, at least early on, will tend to look off Brent Grimes and try to take advantage of the Bucs’ rookie. And it will result in interceptions.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Now lining up at outside corner after earning first-team reps at nickel and playing his way into a full-time starting role, Hargreaves has been as good as advertised. His two interceptions against Jacksonville wound up leading the Bucs and the NFL in the preseason, and those were signs of things to come.
The former Gator is an instinctive corner and a natural playmaker. The Bucs selected him No. 11 overall after a three-time All-SEC career at Florida, one that saw him intercept 10 passes.
It’s his physicality – 121 tackles – that makes him a complete player and capable of lining up in the nickel spot, too, where he will split time with Jude Adjei-Barimah. Sooner rather than later, Hargreaves is expected to develop into a shutdown corner and he’ll lead Tampa Bay in interceptions with a handful as a rookie.
Eric Horchy’s 2016 Bucs’ Leading Interceptor: CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Tampa Bay made Hargreaves a first-round selection for a reason, so why not have some high expectations for the local product? In training camp and in the preseason, Hargreaves showed why he was worth the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Although Hargreaves won’t start the season seeing much action on the outside, he’ll be on the field plenty as the team’s nickel back and who knows where he’ll end up as the year plays itself out. The 21-year-old former Florida Gator already gave fans a taste of his ball-hawking abilities in the preseason by leading the team with two interceptions and nearly recording another against Philadelphia during his first taste of NFL action.
In addition to free-agent pickup Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay is looking for Hargreaves to be part of a secondary that can generate a significant increase in splash plays this season compared to 2015. Last year, the Bucs secondary only had six interceptions, including just two from the cornerback position.
Alterraun Verner and Sterling Moore were the only cornerbacks to record interceptions last year, with one apiece, and linebacker Lavonte David led the team with three. It was the second time in the past three seasons David sat atop that statistical list.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Brent Grimes has lost a step and i can see him getting burned today by bigger and stronger WR’s. Jones will have a field day on us, but as long as our Offense is clicking we will be fine. Go Bucs! Get this win!
Jones didn’t do much today Horse….
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