It had been a frustrating season for Vernon Hargreaves before the hamstring injury that will cost him the final seven games of 2017. But now, as the Bucs put him on injured reserve Wednesday, the second-year cornerback is focused on getting healthy and returning strong next season.
"It's football. You struggle," Hargreaves said of his play this season. "I'm sure I'm going to struggle again at some point in my career. But I learned a lot, started playing better towards the end. I'm proud of that and I'm building on that."
Hargreaves, a first-round pick in 2016, played just nine games in 2017, totaling 42 tackles but finishing the year without an interception, after getting one as a rookie last season. He was moved from an every-down position as outside corner to a part-time role as the nickel cornerback before injuring his hamstring on Nov. 12 in a win against the Jets.
The former Wharton High and Gators star said Wednesday that the decision to go on injured reserve had been discussed for some time — he returned to practice for two days last week before being sidelined again Friday and being inactive Monday against Atlanta.
"We've been discussing it, and at the end of the day, I just wasn't ready," he said. "We made a decision and we're going to stick with it and get ready for next year."
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith spoke highly of Hargreaves and his approach to improving in the offseason, reiterating his confidence in him.
"I think Vernon has a great mindset," Smith said. "He has been working his tail off to get back out on the field. … I think the future is very bright for Vernon, both inside and outside. … He's got the mental makeup to let things roll off his back. When you play corner, it's like being the quarterback. Everybody sees your mistakes."
Hargreaves has now played both at outside corner and inside at nickel, and that versatility can help him moving forward.
"That's the best thing for me," Hargreaves said. "Although I want to play, the team wants me to play, everybody wants me to play, I understand that it's part of my whole situation. I need rest. At the end of the day, that's all it is. I need to come back 100 percent. I don't want to come back 80 percent and hurt it again. It's important for me to be 100 and return, ready to play."