TAMPA — Vernon Hargreaves spent a lot of time learning a new position this offseason, playing inside as a slot corner. Although he wasn't first on the rep chart, the Bucs' first-round draft pick this year most likely will be a starter on the depth chart by the time the regular season begins Sept. 11.
"He's going to play," coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday as the team wrapped up its three-day mandatory minicamp. "The guy has made plays every single day. Vernon is the football player we thought (he was) when we drafted him. He's going to play. It will all fall in place. We're very confident Vernon can either play inside in the nickel or outside."
Hargreaves, a former Gator and Wharton High standout, had an interception late in practice Wednesday and knocked down passes in the end zone during a red zone drill Thursday. Though Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes have been starting at cornerback with the first-team defense, Hargreaves has gotten many reps inside as the slot corner when the offense goes to three wide receivers.
The team believes his athleticism and toughness will make him an asset playing a position similar to that of former Bucs Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber.
"That's what football is, making plays," Hargreaves said. "When an opportunity comes my way, I've got to be ready. For the most part, I've been ready this minicamp.
"I'm fairly comfortable. Not all the way comfortable because I'm used to playing outside. It's a new position. There's new techniques and things I need to learn. It's a learning process, but I'm enjoying it. The closer you are to the ball, the more times you can touch the ball. So I'm happy about moving inside, of course."
RIGHT PLACE: TE Cameron Brate made a sliding, one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone Thursday, a reminder of how he emerged as a favorite target for QB Jameis Winston a year ago.
"Cam has got an uncanny ability to show up in the red zone, and we saw that again (Thursday)," Koetter said. "The defense also made a lot of plays.
"One of the best things about (Thursday), if you were paying attention early, in the two-minute drill, (we had) unbelievable situations. The first group scored a touchdown; they called us for an illegal pick. The second group, we got a penalty in there, too, so penalties on the offense. Then we tried to get a field goal at the end.
"You can't manufacture enough of those game-ending situations. And even when we screw them up — and we do — (we) go in and show them to the guys on tape and learn from them, because when they come up in real life, we've got to do better than we did."
Brate spent much of his rookie year on the team's practice squad in 2014, catching one pass for 17 yards. Last year he was among the final cuts and later released from the practice squad before signing for the same role with the Saints.
When TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins was sidelined with a shoulder injury after a win over the Saints in Week 2, the Bucs re-signed Brate to their active roster. He became a favorite target of Winston's, catching 23 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
HEAT OF THE MOMENT: The final practice period included a minor skirmish among players. Koetter said he has no problem with an occasional flareup at the end of a long, hot practice when players haven't had full contact.
"You want emotion, right? Wouldn't you want to have an emotional team?" Koetter said. "I do. Look, if you (media) guys just watched a two-hour practice and that's what you got out of it, then you're in the wrong spot. If that's your lead story, you're in the wrong spot. It's hot … out here. These guys are working their tail off. Emotions get heated, and guess what? That's football practice. Get over it."
Koetter said practicing without full contact can let steam build up more in some players without the ability to tackle opponents, and he's fine with that.
ET CETERA: WR Vincent Jackson, who did not participate in the first two days of minicamp, participated Thursday and caught a touchdown pass from Winston.