Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs rookie Vernon Hargreaves making strong bid to start

TAMPA — While one highly drafted rookie struggles to kick the football straight, Vernon Hargreaves' confidence is soaring higher than the uprights after his two interceptions in the Bucs' 27-21 win over the Jaguars in a preseason game on Saturday.

The Bucs' rookie cornerback earned repetitions with the starting defense Monday, coach Dirk Koetter said.

"He was going to start working there today. He started working with the (No.) 1s at corner as well," Koetter said.

Second-round pick Roberto Aguayo said he is consulting a "mental coach" from IMG Academy after missing two field goals and an extra point in two preseason games. Meanwhile, Hargreaves, a first-round pick from Florida and Wharton High, has put himself in position to win a starting job by opening day, Sept. 11 at Atlanta.

Hargreaves had been playing the inside slot position on nickel passing downs when opponents went to three receivers. His first interception Saturday came from that position when he drifted into coverage and made a leaping grab on a pass from Chad Henne.

Hargreaves took advantage of Henne again near the start of the second half with a pickoff from cornerback. The difficult catches illustrate Hargreaves' superior hands and ball skills.

"Yeah, heck, I'm thinking about moving him to receiver," Koetter said. "Those were two great catches. Two beautiful plays. He ranged on the one when he was in nickel. Brent Grimes might argue, but you're not going to see a whole lot of better catches than those two plays."

Hargreaves, listed at 5 feet 10, 203 pounds, has had no trouble going up against taller receivers. It's unclear which cornerback spot Hargreaves would play but he would have to unseat either Brent Grimes or Alterraun Verner.

"They have to have good ball skills and our guys do," Koetter said. "They have to be explosive to the ball. Our guys are. They're not going to grow. We're not going to change them out at this point. Our corners are who they are. We're happy with them. We like what they're doing but they've got to be able to go get the ball."

Hargreaves, drafted 11th overall, had 10 interceptions and 38 passes defensed in three seasons for the Gators.

"The game's about the ball. That's the money," Hargreaves said. "Everything's about the ball. So I try to find a way to stay close to it and get my hands on it."

Hargreaves' first interception Saturday came with the score tied and 19 seconds left in the first half. He returned the pick to the Jaguars' 19-yard line, with a facemask penalty setting up Aguayo's field goal for a 17-14 lead. The second interception came 1:15 into the second half.

"I'm just trying to make a play — that's all it was," Hargreaves said. "Sticking to my keys, reading the quarterback and at the end of the day, you have to make a play."

Four of the Bucs' five interceptions in preseason have come from rookies — safeties Ryan Smith and Isaiah Johnson also have picked off passes, as has veteran Johnthan Banks.

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.

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