Vernon Hargreaves speaks out about his troubles: ‘I haven’t been producing’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) takes the field for the game against the Patriots last season. (MONICA HERNDON  |   Times)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) takes the field for the game against the Patriots last season. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published June 1 2018
Updated June 1 2018

TAMPA — Defensive backs are supposed to have short memories, yet nobody seems willing to let Vernon Hargreaves forget how his two seasons in the NFL have not lived up to the promise of a first-round pick. So here are the facts:

One career interception.

The only NFL player to allow at least 1,000 yards passing in 2016.

Seven games missed with a hamstring pull last season.

An incriminating Instagram post that circulated in March of him puffing away on something other than a cigarette.

But through it all, Hargreaves sounds so unafraid of failure, you're almost certain he will succeed.

"Well, the first two years I've had, they've been down years," Hargreaves conceded following the Bucs' final organized team activity Thursday. "They've been average. You know, as a first-rounder, obviously, they're expecting production. It's plain and simple. It's not that complicated. I haven't been producing.

"But they believe in me. They know what I can do. They're moving me inside and outside. That just shows the amount of faith they have in me and I'm grateful. And they know what I can do. They're just telling me to get it going. I've got to make some plays and find a way to be productive."

But if the Bucs are dissatisfied with the way Hargreaves has done his job, why are they giving him two of them?

The former University of Florida and Wharton High School star has been told the right  cornerback spot is his to lose. But when the Bucs go to their sub packages with five defensive backs, Hargreaves moves inside to the slot, showing the kind of versatility by a defensive back not seen in Tampa Bay since Ronde Barber retired.

Hargreaves knows having to learn two positions has probably stunted his growth at both of them. But he approached coaches before the season and says he sold them on the idea.

"It's extremely difficult, playing two positions," Hargreaves said. "I'm not even going to act like it's not.

"It's difficult, but once you learn the defense and understand what's going on, it becomes simpler and that's the point I'm at. I know the defense now, so now it's just about getting reps and seeing certain things, messing it up and doing and right. I enjoy it though. This is what I wanted to do. This is what I talked to the coaches about doing. I'm happy for the opportunity."

It may be short-lived. The Bucs are hedging their bets on Hargreaves a bit. That's why they used two of their three second-round picks on cornerbacks: North Carolina's M.J. Stewart and Auburn's Carlton Davis.

In fact, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Davis is a contender to supplant Hargreaves at right cornerback. Physical, long and equally adept in zone or man to man coverage, Davis is the player who replaces Hargreaves when he moves inside in the Bucs' sub package.

"I mean, I know competition is what got me to where I am today," Hargreaves said. "I don't care who you bring in. It doesn't concern me or affect me. I have to do what I have to do to in order to produce and get on the field. I love competition. I love the guy (Davis) they brought in."

The feeling is mutual. While Hargreaves could have sulked or not been accountable for his "down years," he has remained upbeat, positive and a great teammate.

"Vernon is a great teammate and a guy I really look up to," Davis said. "He's helped me in so many ways. He's just a good person all around, on and off the field. If you know Vernon, he's a good guy and he'll do anything to help a rookie or a teammate out.

Hargreaves best advice? "Just don't be too hard on yourself and give yourself time to adjust."

To be fair, Hargreaves hasn't performed probably as poorly as some suspect. Although there's no denying he was drafted to be a ball hawk, and one career interception won't cut it, he played pretty well the second half of his rookie season.

Opposing quarterbacks naturally chose to throw at him instead of three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes. And the injuries torpedoed his second season.

Hargreaves, 22, didn't help himself by allowing a video of him smoking an unknown substance to be distributed on Instagram in March by someone who clearly meant to damage his reputation.

He addressed the video for the first time with the Times.

"I'm not sure how that came up,"  Hargreaves said. "The video is old. Um, I don't know. I found out just like everyone else found out. I woke up to it. I've got to be more careful. There's no excuse for it. I've got to be more careful. I've got to watch who I'm around, who I'm sending stuff to and who can see me and things of that nature.

"I talked to the guys upstairs and (general manager) Mr. (Jason) Licht and we had a good conversation and everything is … we're moving past it. I just got to be more careful, I've got to be a pro."

When asked if the substance he was smoking in the video was marijuana, Hargreaves simply said, "No."

The Bucs have no comment on the incident, metaphorically waiting for the smoke to clear and for their prized cornerback to begin to fulfill his promise.

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