FAB 2. Hargreaves For Comeback Player Of The Year?

If everything goes according to plan, this is the year Tampa Bay cornerback Vernon Hagreaves III will extract his vengeance on his critics – and the football gods that have derailed his last two seasons with injuries – this year.

Of course it was supposed to be last year when Hargreaves regained his confidence during training camp, had a fine preseason and had seven tackles, a forced fumble and one pass broken up in just one half of the Bucs’ 48-40 opening day win at New Orleans before injuring his shoulder and being placed on injured reserve after Week 1.

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Not that Hargreaves is a vengeful person. He’s not.

He’s actually a hell of a nice guy, he’s funny and he just had some growing up to do over the last couple of years.

But Hargreaves really needs to have a bounce-back year in 2019. It’s time.

Hargreaves has his share of detractors because he hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status yet – largely due to injuries that were beyond his control. Before leaving Tampa Bay this offseason after six Pro Bowl appearances, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, was labeled a bust because he missed 13 games in his first two years, winding up on injured reserve due twice due to a pair of triceps injuries.

Justified or not, Hargreaves has also carried that bust label for the last few years after being constantly targeted as a rookie and recording just one interception in a trial-by-fire season in 2016, followed by two seasons that ended prematurely on injured reserve.

“It’s crazy what people have said about him – like he’s not doing anything,” Bond said. “The guy’s been injured. I don’t think Vern worries about any labels. I think Vern is out here getting better.”

Plenty of Hargreaves’ teammates see it.

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Getty Images

“A healthy Vern is a really good Vern,” said Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans. “Vernon Hargreaves is a really good corner – real smart and savvy. He switches it up on you a lot. He’ll switch inside, leverage inside, leverage outside, and just switch it up a lot. He’s very savvy, [and he’s got] really good ball skills. He’s having a really good camp.”

Part of the reason why Hargreaves is having a good training camp in Tampa Bay this year is because he’s being used properly.

Finally.

After exceling at Florida in press-man coverage and recording 10 interceptions and 27 pass breakups over three years, Bucs general manager Jason Licht made him the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft – in part because former defensive coordinator Mike Smith wanted more aggressive corners for his system. But after telling the team’s scouts of his intentions of mixing in more press-man coverage, Smith reverted back to his old coaching comfort zone, which was off-man coverage and Cover 4 – or Quarters coverage.

“It’s a real touchy situation because coaches are going to do what they want to do,” Hargreaves said. “But certain players do certain things well and it’s all about finding that happy medium. I think we definitely found that with what we have going on right now with this coaching staff. It’s exciting. We’re working, we’re making plays and we’re a lot more comfortable.”

Bond agreed with that sentiment.

“Vern is a big energy guy and I love that about him,” said Bucs linebacker Devante Bond. “He has a different attitude about him now. He’s had some injuries and you can tell that’s behind him now. He’s in a scheme that fits him like a glove – it just fits him.”

Bucs CBs coach Kevin Ross
Bucs CBs coach Kevin Ross – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Coaching matters in the NFL, and Hargreaves is playing for one of the league’s best cornerbacks coaches in former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kevin Ross, who spent 2013-17 coaching with Bruce Arians in Arizona. I’ll have more on Ross in the next segment of SR’s Fab 5.

“I mean, they have one of the greatest cornerbacks probably of all time with Coach Ross on their side,” Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. “He was a dog back there in the secondary with the Kansas City Chiefs so I’m excited to see them. I’m happy to see Vernon coming on the field bringing energy and [being] back to his full self.”

Ross believes in Hargreaves in a way that perhaps no other Bucs defensive coach believed in him over the past three seasons. The fact that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is having Hargreaves do what he does well – play press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage where the former Florida standout excels – is also a huge reason why Hargreaves has a new lease on life in Tampa Bay this summer.

“Coach Ross will make a two-star guy feel like a five-star player without a doubt,” Hargreaves said. “He instills confidence in you. He’s a great coach and he’s a great motivator.

“Coach Ross doesn’t care that we’re young. This coaching staff is all on the same page. They’ve been on the same page for years going back to Arizona. They believe in us and that feels good. We’re going to make them proud and do exactly what they want us to do – be in position to make plays and make them.”

While the Bucs picked up Hargreaves’ fifth-year option for 2020 at just over $9 million, it isn’t guaranteed unless he’s injured and can’t play next year. If Hargreaves doesn’t perform well this year the team can release him in the offseason without any cap penalties.

Ross has some specific goals for Hargreaves as he enters an all-important contract year in his fourth season.

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“I’ve challenged Vernon Hargreaves to be Comeback Player of the Year,” Ross said. “I’ve challenged Vernon Hargreaves to finish all 16 games. I’ve challenged Vernon Hargreaves to put four to six balls in his hands by the end of the year. That’s the Vernon Hargreaves I’m looking for.”

Hargreaves and his young teammates in the cornerbacks room are ready to follow Ross’ lead – and the lead of Arians, whose arrival has injected new life into players like outside linebacker Noah Spence, inside linebacker Devante Bond, defensive back M.J. Stewart and right guard Alex Cappa that may have looked like potential busts under the previous coaching staff.

“Coach Arians says it best – the talent is not the issue,” Hargreaves said. “Talent hasn’t been an issue around here. He came out of retirement to coach again for a reason. He saw the roster before he decided to sign up for this. He knew what he was getting into and talent here is not the issue. You’ve got to put guys in the right spot doing the right things if you want to see them excel.

“People are definitely quick to jump on the ‘bust’ wagon, but it’s all good. We’re football players and we’re built to deal with adversity. Now we’re finally comfortable in what we have going on and we have to take advantage of this situation and we keep getting better. This is going to be a fun year.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

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nitey
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nitey

Really enjoyed this Fab5 Scott. Best part was reading about coach Ross and how he’s working with the young secondary. I plan on watching the back 7 real hard on tonight’s game because we played so soft last year.

BUC-ASS-BOB
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BUC-ASS-BOB

QB Jameis Winston
QB Blaine Gabbert
A duo for the ages

Right up there with
QB Joe Montana
QB Steve Young

Good new Bucs fan no team could look worse than AZ did last night

surferdudes
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I hope they can find two better O lineman then E. Smith, and Benenoch. If those are our best back ups, we’re in trouble. I’ve never been impressed with Bond as a LB, hope someone shows better then him. His biggest problem is staying healthy, and being consistent. I think if Justin Evans doesn’t get his ass on the field soon why keep him? He’s never played a snap in this new defense, and some have him listed as starter. That doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not like he’s ever even come close to living up to the hype… Read more »

dfk68
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dfk68

What I saw watching the Ogunbowale highlight video: A whole bunch of offensive linemen I wish we had here now!

martinii
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martinii

Cole Gardner, Cole Boozer??? I agree for the most part but need to see some preseason games. There are obvious veterans and FA, but surprised to see only one UDFA. We have a lot of talent we are going to lose when we put them on PR.

TBAtlas
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TBAtlas

I’d be getting worried about Drew Lock if I were you Bob.

nybuccguy
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nybuccguy

I’d be shocked if we only kept 3 TEs, especially without a FB on the roster.

drdneast
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drdneast

How about your team the Broncos, DumbAssBob. They looked pretty pathetic against the Seahawks with the Broncos old QB, the gangly 6’7 Paxton Lynch loping in and blasting through a Bronco DB for the score.
Hilarious stuff.

EastEndBoy
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EastEndBoy

Reality check I guess: I find that 53 pretty frustrating TBH. It has the same weak links we’ve had for years – LT, OG (at one point LG now RG), DE/OLB…now our supposed pro bowl-in-waiting safety is not even expected to start the year. Our breakout running back isn’t named Jones (or even Barber) but Ogunbowale…we’re rotating in more young DBs to start alongside VHIII, who having been out is now back in I guess. I am happy that VHIII is being given a chance – I have believed in his talent but somebody needs to get him up on… Read more »

Spitfire
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Spitfire

Sucks Vea May miss up to the first 4 games but there is a chance he will be ready Week 1. At least he’s not lost for the season. Can’t wait to see how the Roster falls into place once we see the Youth hitting guys for real over the next few weeks. Hoping for the best and excited as hell! Hopefully Cappa will see a lot of Preseason action and we get to see how he’s progressing. If there is a decent Dlineman released that can be had for $7mil or less before the season starts I think the… Read more »

seat26
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seat26

Excellent analysis. I pray we stay healthy. Seeing so many players sidelined is depressing. But you have to be impressed with the development of Spence, ROJO, Cappa, Perriman, and Whitehead. I hope our OL can stay intact. Winston is going to be a beast this year. GO Bucs!

flashgordon
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flashgordon

I subtly remember a Chiefs player named Ross, even Kevin Ross; but, I didn’t realize our new Db coach was the same guy.

seat26
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seat26

Our Starters look pretty good, but Defense gave up way too many big plays. White was a nonfactor in the first half. Our 2nd teams on both sides of the ball look pretty bad. I am not impressed with our new defense at all in the first half of the first game. I am going to say it right now. Matt Gay is the best pick in this draft. Our first two picks look like they have a long way to go.

seat26
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seat26

Looks like our Punter will get a lot of work this year.

Johnny Cannons
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Johnny Cannons

I feel like there’s a real battle to be watched between Ogunbowale and Bond on special teams, which could affect whether the team keeps Bond or Tanner Hudson. Recalling that DO was getting some personal protector reps on camp, if he lands that job I think the Bucs may need to keep Hudson. The 3 TE may play a lot and that seems to imply needing a 4th, and Hudson won’t last long if he doesn’t make the 53, I don’t think.

But depth on the back part of the roster is not a bad problem to haves