TAMPA — Jackie Hargreaves, so blessed to have her son Vernon drafted to play in his native Tampa with the Bucs, couldn't help but notice he wasn't coming home as much this offseason.
"At first, I was trying to figure out: Why isn't he coming around?" she said. "I finally asked him: 'What exactly are you doing? You haven't been coming over.' "
The answer, it turns out, was one of the reasons he liked coming home so much while he was in college at Florida, and even last year: Mom's jambalaya.
"I changed my diet up a bit. I used to eat everything — anything and everything," the cornerback said after practice Saturday, preparing for his second NFL season. "My mom lives 45 minutes away, so I had to stay away from Mom's house, stay away from her meals. Just (eat) healthy, normal stuff."
Hard as it has been, it has helped Hargreaves drop 12 pounds, to 188, which has made him more confident, part of a personal overhaul begun after his 2016 rookie year.
"I can feel it. I'm lighter on my feet," said Hargreaves, who played in 98 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps as a rookie, with opposing quarterbacks throwing his way often rather than challenging Pro Bowl veteran Brent Grimes on the other side of the field.
Hargreaves, taken by the Bucs with the No. 11 pick in last year's draft, had only one interception, and coach Dirk Koetter has challenged him to have more splash plays and takeaways while becoming more consistent in his coverage skills.
"I had to work on everything," Hargreaves said of his offseason focus. "I had a tough year last year. You're either going to cry about it or you're going to get better. I got into my office, got to work, and it's showing this year."
Something clicked for Hargreaves near the end of his rookie season, and Grimes, entering his 11th season, said his counterpart is already learning from his limited experience.
"I see the same guy: He's confident. He's coming out and making plays," Grimes said. "That's what he did last year, and now he's a year in. He's seen a lot more, so he'll be more comfortable. He'll notice stuff he's seen before, and that enables people to play a little faster."
So does Hargreaves' reluctant cutback of home cooking, apparently. Jackie said her husband — Hargreaves' father, Vernon Jr., a former USF assistant now at Arkansas in his 33rd year as a college coach — had told their son he was too heavy, "that he thought he could stand to drop maybe 10 pounds."
And though it wasn't easy for her, either, she's willing to see less of him, understanding that it ultimately means there's less of him to see.
"He didn't want to tempt himself," she said of the jambalaya. "He does come home now, and he'll eat, but it's small portions now. He took it to heart. He has control over his eating habits now. … He has his confidence up, and I'm hoping he has a good year this year."
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Hargreaves is part of a young defensive nucleus that could help propel the Bucs from good to great in his second year. As for his potential growth this season, he says it's all on the table.
"I have a whole 16 games under my belt, and that speaks for itself," he said. "I'm just playing faster now, trusting myself and playing fast."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.