TAMPA — Before Vernon Hargreaves left the locker room after Sunday's 48-40 win at New Orleans, Bucs trainer Bobby Slater fastened a harness on the left shoulder of the third-year cornerback.
"Do I have to wear this?'' Hargreaves asked.
Slater nodded. Now it looks as if Hargreaves may need more help than that.
Hargreaves will travel to see noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews today, seeking a second opinion on a shoulder injury that the Bucs fear could be season-ending.
At the very least, the Bucs will likely be without both starting cornerbacks for Sunday's home opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Cornerback Brent Grimes did not accompany the team to New Orleans due to a groin injury he suffered last week.
It would be a devastating blow for Hargreaves, the former Florida Gators and Wharton High School star whose career has been derailed by injury or ineffectiveness.
Hargreaves, 23, caused a fumble by Saints running back Mike Gillislee that was scooped up by safety Justin Evans and returned for a touchdown Sunday. It was a momentum-changing play that gave the Bucs a 31-17 lead with 4:27 remaining in the game.
He also had seven tackles, on forced fumble and one pass defensed Sunday.
"I thought he was really good," coach Dirk Koetter said about Hargreaves' game. "I thought Vernon has played well all through the preseason. He's really worked on his game. He's brought energy. He's been a good leader on the field with the way he's played, and it was just unfortunate. He made a really nice play on the play that he got hurt on and we're just hoping for the best in that."
The Bucs on Tuesday signed former Jets and Texans cornerback Marcus Williams, who has 10 career interceptions.
Hargreaves has struggled to fulfill his promise as the 12th overall pick in 2016. He has only one career interception, which came during his rookie year, when he became the only player to allow at least 1,000-yards passing.
Last season, Hargreaves missed seven games with a hamstring pull.
Hargreaves was expected to play a pivotal dual role in the Bucs defense this season. Not only is he the starting right cornerback, but he moved inside to the slot in the Bucs sub package when teams go to three receivers.
Hargreaves told the Tampa Bay Times this year that he had not lived up to expectations.
"Well, the first two years I've had, they've been down years," Hargreaves said. "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.''
The Bucs have been hit hard by injuries at cornerback. In addition to Hargreaves, they placed cornerback De'Vante Harris on injured reserve last week before waiving him after reaching a settlement Tuesday.
Hargreaves' injury means the Bucs will have to rely more on rookie cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. Davis struggled in his first NFL start Sunday and was targeted often by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for 439 yards and three touchdowns.
That included a 28-yard touchdown strike to receiver Ted Ginn, who beat Davis on an out and up in man to man coverage.
Davis said he has leaned on Hargreaves for advice as a rookie.
"He's a huge help for me, I'm really happy to have him on my side,'' Davis said of Hargreaves. "Having been in that situation, he knows what to do so he gives me a whole bunch of tips.
"He told me that alignment would be a lot different, but as a rookie, you don't want to think too much about things. So the main thing was just relax and play. Just move onto the next one. You're a rookie so you're going to make mistakes. There's things you haven't seen before or people you haven't played against like Drew Brees so you've got to have a next man mentality and you'll give good effort.''
Now the Bucs may need to go to the next man to replace Hargreaves, depending on the outcome of Andrews' examination today.