FAB 3. The Wait Is Over For Hargreaves
I wrote about Vernon Hargreaves III just a month ago in a previous edition of SR’s Fab 5. His position coach Kevin Ross touted Hargreaves as a potential NFL Comeback Player of the Year award candidate.
I typically don’t feature the same player again so soon in my column unless something has changed, but Hargreaves is different. His story is compelling as a former first-round pick that is trying to shed the “bust” label some have applied to his four-year career in Tampa Bay.
Hargreaves had a very good training camp and a very good preseason – kind of like he did a year ago when his confidence was restored and he looked like the player general manager Jason Licht expected when he drafted the Florida cornerback with the 11th overall pick. Hargreaves had a tremendous showing in the first half of last year’s 48-40 opening day win in New Orleans with seven tackles, a pass breakup and a key forced fumble before a severe shoulder injury prematurely ended his season in the third quarter.
After ending the 2017 season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, Hargreaves has missed 22 of the last 23 Buccaneers regular season games. To say that he is anxiously awaiting Sunday’s season opener at San Francisco would be a gross understatement.
“I can’t wait,” Hargreaves said. “I’ve been ready since I got hurt in Week 1 because as an athlete you know when you’re hurt. I knew once it happened that I was going to be out the whole year. It hurt too bad. That first day after the injury, I was already thinking about this year. Now it’s here and I’m ready to go.”
Hargreaves weighed 204 pounds for the NFL Scouting Combine in 2016, but has leaned down in Tampa Bay in an effort to increase his speed. After playing at 188 pounds last year, Hargreaves has bulked up to 195 while still maintaining his speed and quickness.
“I feel like I’m better because I’m stronger than I was at this point last year,” Hargreaves said. “I got in the weight room a little bit more. I feel stronger than I was at this point last year. I started taking my body a little more seriously. It took me too long, but hey, everybody has to learn. I learned my lesson. Surgery is not fun. I tried to do better this year by staying stronger. I feel faster. Mentally, I’ve been through a lot, so I’m excited and ready to go.”
Hargreaves was a press-man coverage cornerback at Florida and did everything but play that style of football in his first three years in Mike Smith’s Quarters defensive scheme, which featured defensive backs sometimes playing eight to 10 yards off the wide receiver with a ridiculous amount of cushion. In Todd Bowles defense, Hargreaves is back to playing right in receivers’ faces up on the line of scrimmage.
“I love it,” Hargreaves said. “It’s easier when you can disrupt routes and get in guys’ faces. Going to back to how I was raised and where I grew up – I’m a coach’s kid. I’ll never complain. I had to learn. I never played off [coverage] before. Going to back to college I never played off. I had to learn how to backpedal. I learned how to break out from my backpedal. I had to learn how to react. I had to learn how to read the quarterback and I did all this while I was trying to play on Sundays, too. It was tough for me. My first [three years] were average. I didn’t play. I missed 20-some games. My first year was all right. My second year I started slow and got hurt.”
And last year was just a waste as he only played three quarters before injuring his shoulder. As time has progressed, Hargreaves, who is entering his fourth year in the league as the most experienced cornerback on the team, has grown up and is ready to become the defender the Bucs drafted in the first round.
“For me, the younger Vern was learning how to play defensive back,” Hargreaves said. “There was more to it than just pressing a guy. There was more to it. I had to learn how to play off coverage and learn how to read the quarterback if you want to make plays. That’s all it was. I was trying to learn how to play cornerback in the National Football League – not in college. Everybody said I was good in college, but this isn’t college. It’s not the same. These guys are good and they know what they’re doing.
“I never did any of that stuff in college because in college we were going to blitz you, we were going to plan man on the outside. It was simple and I did that for three years at UF. I get here and they have a guy like Brent Grimes that could play off better than anybody in the world and they bring me in and expected the same thing and it just didn’t happen. Then everybody is looking at me all crazy and like, ‘What’s going on?’ I was picked 11th overall and if you’re picked that high you have to come in and play. I understood that coming in, but hey, I’m here now.”
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has been thrilled with how Hargreaves has performed in Bowles’ scheme.
“First of all he’s healthy,” Arians said. “This is the healthiest he’s been in a couple years. He’s also bought in to the system. It’s what he did very well at Florida. Press-man, bail – some things like Quarters that he’s played before. He’s such a bright guy that he sees why we do things so he can execute it very well.”
At age 24, Hargreaves is still considered to be a young cornerback by league standards, but in his position room, he’s now the elder statesman in a room full of rookies and second-year players.
“It is cool,” Hargreaves said. “You’re going to sick of hearing this phrase, but how I was raised as a coach’s kid I’ve been around it and I see it. I know what coaching and leadership is like. I watched my dad and I was in his meeting room since I was little. I know how you can’t talk to everybody the same way because everybody is different. I’m not shy. The younger guys see that and they know I’m someone that they can talk to. They see my struggles. I’m just like them – just older. They see me hurt, but they also see me play well.”
Hargreaves hears some of the noise in the media about how young the Bucs secondary is, but shrugs it off.
“People are going to talk – whether we do good or we do bad,” Hargreaves said. “Whether we are young or whether we are old – somebody is going to have something to say. That’s just the NFL. That’s life. We’re not worried about that. We’re worried about one day at a time. We’ve got the 49ers on Sunday and we’ll see how it goes.
“We’ve got to be aggressive. We play defense. That’s the name of the game on defense. We have to fly around and we have to get to the ball. We have to be technically sound.”
For a man who has missed nearly two dozen games over the past two years, Sunday can’t come soon enough for Hargreaves, who like Ross, his position coach, believes he’s got a big year in store.
“It’s hard to sleep [the night before the season opener], but in my mind, the main thing is eating right, watching film and relaxing,” Hargreaves said. “It’s not that big of a deal for me – just eating right, staying hydrated. I definitely don’t sleep. It’s pretty normal. We’re all going to be hyped. I don’t think anyone is going to sleep. It’s going to be fun. We’re going to be ready to go.”