Dirk Koetter: Secondary is a ‘logical target’ in draft for Bucs

Vernon Hargreaves lost his starting job, then finished the season on injured reserve. The Bucs seem content to let him line up as the slot cornerback. (Times file)
Vernon Hargreaves lost his starting job, then finished the season on injured reserve. The Bucs seem content to let him line up as the slot cornerback. (Times file)
Published April 7

The pro days are over and the NFL draft still is a few weeks away. The next couple of weeks are used for private workouts and scheduling the 30 in-house visits with potential picks.

Not much can be gleaned by which players are invited to One Buc Place. Obviously, the Bucs have interest in all the top non-quarterbacks in the draft — Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson.

Chubb, Nelson, Washington DT Vita Vea, Florida State S Derwin James, Louisville CB Jaire Alexander and LSU CB Donte Jackson were among the players making pre-draft visits to the Bucs this week.

RELATED: Why the Bucs should not take the best player in the draft

Aside from re-signing 35-year-old veteran Brent Grimes to a one-year contract, the Bucs haven't really addressed their cornerback situation. Ryan Smith, who moved back from safety in his second pro season, started 10 games and had 62 tackles, but gave up a lot of yards and had no interceptions.

Vernon Hargreaves seems relegated to playing slot corner, which gets him on the field about 66 percent of the time when teams go to three receivers.

"We said at the end of the year, the No. 1 thing we needed to do was get Brent Grimes back and we did that," said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. "And then, also, Vernon Hargreaves finished the year on (injured reserve). When you have those two guys coming back plus the experience that Ryan Smith's got and Justin Evans coming back at safety — all that said, now that the defensive line has had so many additions, I would think secondary is logical to think that would be an area of target in the draft.

"And again, I think it's a strong group in the secondary in this year's draft class. I know I've watched a bunch of guys and there's a lot of guys I like."
The Bucs currently do not have a third-round pick, having dealt it to the Giants for pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. So if they go another direction at No. 7 overall, the second-round choice could well be a cornerback.

CLOUDY FUTURE? There has been radio silence since an Instagram video surfaced of Hargreaves smoking an unknown substance. Neither the Bucs nor Hargreaves have responded.

Hargreaves did not have a good 2017. He lost his starting job and then finished the season on injured reserve. The Bucs seem content to let him line up as the slot cornerback, even though typically you don't use a first-round pick on someone who is not going to play every down.

The dangerous thing for Hargreaves— and by proxy the Bucs— is that the NFL could use the video as probable cause to place Hargreaves into Phase 1 of the league's substance abuse program, which would make him subject to random drug tests.

A violation of his personal program would result in a suspension. It can be a slippery slope and an inconvenience for players. Former Bucs quarterback Chris Simms recently revealed that he was in the drug program and lost four game checks while playing for Tampa Bay.

"The drug program (is) miserable," Simms said. "You can be tested all the time. They can come to your house. How many times was I on the way to see a movie with my wife and then they call and I was like, 'Damn, honey … we gotta go back.' Because you have a time — once they call you, the time limit starts."

Right now, the Bucs and Hargreaves are just hoping the smoke clears.

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