Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bucs rookie Vernon Hargreaves braces for another elite receiver challenge

TAMPA — The NFL schedule-makers weren't kind to the Bucs in opening their season with two road games. The challenge is especially daunting for rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

The former Wharton High and Gators star lined up on his second play in Sunday's season opener at Atlanta against All-Pro Julio Jones, the NFL's leading receiver last year.

This weekend, Hargreaves goes up against a certain Hall of Famer in the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, who caught his 100th career touchdown pass in Arizona's opener last week and is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection

"First two weeks in the NFL, it's 'Hey, welcome,' " Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "To have a rookie corner playing both nickel and corner every snap in the first game, I think it says a whole lot about what kind of football player he's going to be long term."

Hargreaves' resilience showed on the Falcons' second drive. Atlanta had a 59-yard pass play on what looked to be a defensive miscommunication that involved the rookie. On the next play, Jones — 5 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Hargreaves' 5 feet 10 and 205 — blocked Har­greaves and drove him onto his back.

On the next play, Hargreaves sped around Jones to make a tackle for no gain, part of a red-zone defensive stop that held the Falcons to a field goal.

"I'm never going to say I played well," Hargreaves said after evaluating his first game. "That's just how I am. I have to keep working and keep getting better. There were obviously some things I need to work on."

NFL cornerbacks aren't always thrown into the fire like this. Among the Bucs, Brent Grimes got his first start three years out of college, and Alterraun Verner didn't get a tackle until his third NFL game.

Hargreaves didn't take a snap off in Sunday's 31-24 win, working as an outside corner and sliding inside to slot corner in the nickel package. He has a strong inner confidence that gives him the swagger to line up against one of the NFL's best without flinching.

"He believes in his mind that he belongs on the field on with all those guys," fellow corner Jude Adjei-Barimah said. "If you can win the mental part before the game starts, it'll help you on the field automatically. His success has been a shock to people because he's a rookie, but for us who have been around him, we know that's the guy he came here to be."

In the locker room after Sunday's game, Hargreaves conceded there was "a lot of messing up," with different roles in a complex new defense that require a high level of communication in changing coverages.

Coach Dirk Koetter said the challenge of throwing at Har­greaves, even in practice, is that he makes up ground in a hurry, as seen in his two preseason interceptions. "That kid can close," Koetter said. "He had an interception in practice (Thursday) where it looked like it was going to be open, and he closed it, came underneath the receiver and picked it. He's got a burst, and then he's got good ball skills on top of it. A really good burst."

Cornerback might be the team's most improved position. The 2015 Bucs allowed opponents to complete an NFL-high 70 percent of their passes and had just 11 interceptions, two from cornerbacks.

In new starters Hargreaves and Grimes, there's hope that big plays can come from where they'd been sorely lacking.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy called Hargreaves a ball hawk.

"He's always around the ball and has the ability to make every play," McCoy said. "As a rookie, opening day, Georgia Dome, you're going to make some mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes opening day. … He's going to make a lot of plays for us."

Hargreaves, 21, will have his hands full Sunday with Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, who combined for 3,067 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns last season. The next week brings his first home game and a relatively easy challenge against the Rams, but his mentality is to expect the best from every opponent.

"Every week's a big week. There's going to be some guy on the other side of the ball that's an All-Pro or Pro Bowler," he said. "So week in, week out, we've got to play games how we know how to play, stay together as a team and hopefully keep winning."

Bucs rookie Vernon Hargreaves braces for another elite receiver challenge 09/16/16 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2016 10:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay Tech offense gains dimension with addition of RB Treshaun Ward


    TAMPA — The playbook was pretty simple at Tampa Bay Tech. Snap the ball to quarterback Michael Penix and let him throw all over the field.

    Jaquavious Johnson, left, and Treshaun Ward pose for a portrait during practice at Tampa Bay Tech High School in Tampa on Monday, August 21, 2017.
  2. HomeTeam 25: Volleyball rankings for Tampa Bay

    Volleyball Preps

    1. Plant

    Last season: 28-4

    This week: Thursday vs. Bloomingdale

    Plant High outside hitter Camryn Vogler (1) hits the ball over the net past St. Thomas Aquinas outside hitter Kirsten Klos (10) during the Class 8A state volleyball final between Plant High and St. Thomas Aquinas at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. St. Thomas beat Plant High 3-0.
  3. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Key roster battles


    Greg Auman looks ahead to tonight's third episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks," and talks about key roster battles that could shift with the Bucs' third preseason game Saturday night against the Browns on our …

    Bucs running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) is hit by middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) while running the ball during training camp. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Rays series preview: Who are the Blue Jays?


    Last week, the Rays faced the Blue Jays in the Rogers Centre, dropping three of four. This week, they'll play three games at Tropicana Field. Here's the information you need to know about Toronto before the action kicks off.

    Third baseman Josh Donaldson hit four home runs in as many games against the Rays last week.
  5. And the most-searched NFL player in Florida is ...


    The Bucs just faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in preseason, and open their 2017 season at the Miami Dolphins. So with the state's NFL competition ahead of and just behind the Bucs, who do you think is the NFL player most searched on Google by Floridians?

    Fans react with excitement moments after the Bucs announce their first-round pick at the team's 2016 NFL draft party. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]