Saturday, June 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Bucs give fans more reason for optimism by drafting Hargreaves

TAMPA — They're getting there.

Slowly but surely. Steadily but prudently. They are getting there.

Sometimes it doesn't feel like it. Nothing comes easy with the Bucs. Everything, it seems, takes a little longer with this franchise.

But you do get the sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel, hope on the horizon, a reason to be optimistic about tomorrow.

Two years ago they won a measly two games. They were the worst team in football.

Last year they won six. Hey, that's a bit better.

That moved them up nine steps on the NFL ladder. In between, along with those baby steps, they added more pieces to their puzzle, including what looks like a franchise quarterback.

On Thursday night they added what they believe is another key piece. The Tampa kid, Florida's Vernon Hargreaves, was taken with the Bucs' 11th overall pick in the draft. He's coming home and maybe bringing some winning with him.

"I think it's a big win," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.

Big win? Good pick? Sure sounds like it.

A lock-down corner from a big-time school in an elite conference? Check, check and check. Now he jumps to a division loaded with top-flight quarterbacks and outstanding receivers. He is there to check them.

"The best cover corner in the draft," general manager Jason Licht said.

Hargreaves is a tad on the small size in terms of length at 5 feet 10 inches, but he makes up for it with thickness at 204 pounds.

Built like a running back but covers like a blanket with the hands of a receiver.

"Great players come in different sizes," Licht said.

Hargreaves also makes up for it with something else.

"We like his ego," Licht said. "He has got an ego."

Yep, Hargreaves said.

"I have confidence, and I'm not afraid to show it," Hargreaves said.

So can he make the leap from big-time SEC corner to NFC South corner? Check back in September, but I do know this: If you want a difference maker in the secondary, a corner who can shut down receivers, create turnovers and throw a wrench into the other team's passing game, you find them in one place: the draft.

More pieces will be added today and Saturday in the draft. Maybe this draft will land the Bucs a haul similar to last year's, which yielded four starters: quarterback Jameis Winston, offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, and linebacker Kwon Alexander.

That's what the draft is all about: hope, optimism, a chance to dream about a better day.

That day might be soon for the Bucs. Put it this way: This is the most optimistic you can feel about the Bucs in a few years. There's a lot to like about them.

Start with the quarterback. When you're talking football, you always start with the quarterback. For the first time since, uh, ever, the Bucs go into a season feeling good — truly feeling good — about their quarterback. Winston was everything you would want from a No. 1 pick and a franchise quarterback last year.

He was dependable on the field and reliable off the field, and a leader both places. And he's going to get only better.

The Bucs have wisely gone about surrounding him with plenty of talent on his side of the ball: an offensive line anchored by Smith and Marpet, a cowbell running back in Doug Martin, two elite receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and a tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has shown flashes of being pretty good.

The past couple of drafts have mostly been about the offense for the Bucs.

Now it's all about fixing the defense. The construction continued Thursday night with the Hargreaves selection.

The Bucs do have cornerstone pieces on defense. There's tackle Gerald McCoy. There's linebacker Lavonte David. And there's Alexander.

In the offseason, Tampa Bay has added a couple of free agents. Cornerback Brent Grimes and pass rusher Robert Ayers allow the Bucs to line up today and play a game with at least a couple of veterans who know what real football looks like.

"We feel great," Licht said about the defense. "We feel very good. We still think we have needs. We wanted the (draft) board to come to us where best available meets need, and this is where it was."

Even Koetter, an offensive coordinator by trade and heart, was cool with focusing on defense in free agency and Thursday's first round, especially after so much attention has been paid to the offense the past couple of years.

"I don't think anybody could look anybody else in the eye and say we needed to be drafting offense," Koetter said. "We need to draft defense

"Let's hope next year we're not drafting at (No.) 9," Koetter said, referencing the Bucs' spot before they traded down Thursday to 11 with the Bears, "and we're picking a lot further back."

That's the plan. Getting better. Moving back in the draft and up in the standings.

One day they'll get there — "there" being a team with a winning record, maybe even in the playoffs.

The Bucs are getting closer every day. And by drafting Hargreaves, they are one step closer than they were the day before.

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