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Bucs Hargreaves may have found slot that fits him best

Roy Cummings

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Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Then rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves took his very first NFL snap at the slot corner position in the Buccaneers season-opener at Atlanta last year.

Based on how he played in his return to the slot last week, the Bucs should strongly consider letting Hargreaves take the rest of his NFL snaps there as well.

The most exploited cornerback in the league prior to last Sunday, Hargreaves was arguably the best corner on the field for the Bucs during their 30-27 loss to the Bills.

That may not be saying much given the way Tyrod Taylor torched the Bucs secondary, but you can certainly argue that Hargreaves did his part to keep the Bills under control.

In what may have been the best game of his career, Hargreaves didn’t allow any of the four passes thrown his way to be completed and was credited with pass breakups on two of them, according to Pro Football Focus.

 “I think Vernon played better,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said of Hargreaves, who had allowed every pass thrown his way the previous two games to be caught. “We were pleased with the way he responded.’’

Too bad the rest of the Bucs corners didn’t respond that well. The Bucs had just three pass breakups on the day with the other going to Robert McClain, who switched places with Hargreaves, starting at right outside corner.

Brent Grimes started on the left outside corner spot just as he usually does, but he wound up having a Hargreaves-like day, allowing four of the five passes thrown his way to be completed.

Included in those receptions, according to Pro Football Focus, were two that were caught for a total of 40 yards by Deonte Thompson and two more that totaled 30 yards.

That added up to a rare off day for Grimes, who led the NFL with 24 passes defensed last year and currently leads the Bucs with five pass breakups so far this year.

Assuming Grimes returns to his normal form, the Bucs may have found at least a temporary solution to the Hargreaves problem. After all, it was as a slot corner last preseason that he seemed to play his best ball.

Hargreaves, you may remember, was making quite an impression on the Bucs as a slot corner before the 2016 season started. He impressed them so much that the Bucs quickly moved him outside.

Hargreaves hasn’t been impressive since, so you have to wonder if the Bucs will look to keep him in the slot going forward. Chances are they will, as long as McClain can answer the bell again this week.

McClain had to come out of the Bills game late because of a concussion and was still in the concussion protocol on Monday. If McClain can’t go this week the Bucs will have a tough decision to make with Hargreaves.

Do they leave him in the slot where he excelled or put him back on the outside and hope that his bounce back game helped him develop the confidence he needs to play better there?

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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