After being held to five catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns in their first NFL encounter, Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin already had plenty of incentive to perform better in his second battle against Buccaneers rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
Now he may have a little more.
Hargreaves wasn’t necessarily trying to dis Benjamin, but the former Florida DB may have done just that on Thursday when he said that former Alabama and current Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper was the first wideout he ever faced that was better than him.
“I was young, a sophomore at that point, and he was already playing like he was in the NFL,’’ Hargreaves said of facing Cooper during a 2014 Florida-Alabama matchup. “It was the first time I felt like I was playing against somebody that was significantly better than me.’’
What’s interesting about the comment is that Hargreaves had already faced Benjamin, surrendering a 4-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown to him during the Gators 37-7 season-ending loss to Florida State the previous November.
Hargreaves was reminded of that on Thursday but he stuck with his claim that the encounter with Cooper stood out, in part because it marked the first time he was actually matched up one-on-one against a specific receiver for an entire game.
“That was actually my first time following somebody,’’ said Hargreaves, who did not fare well in the matchup, allowing Cooper to catch 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns during a 42-21 Alabama rout at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
“I remember sitting down after that game and thinking, ‘Wow, he really got me better in a way.’ I mean, just seeing the routes he ran and getting to cover him, when you play against good player you just naturally get better.
“That’s just kind of how life works and so I was glad I got to see (him) early in my college career, see somebody of his caliber, because it prepared me well. So I can’t wait to get back out there and get him again.’’
If Hargreaves “gets’’ Cooper again on Sunday when the Bucs take on the Raiders at Raymond James Stadium it will likely mean fellow cornerback Brent Grimes will be matched up against Michael Crabtree. Neither assignment figures to be an easy one for the Bucs defenders.
Cooper will go into the game ranked sixth overall in the NFL in receiving yards with 40 receptions for 614 yards and a touchdown, while Crabtree ranks 20th overall with 39 catches for 461 yards and six touchdowns.
“It’s going to be exciting to go against those guys and see where we really are (as a secondary),’’ Hargreaves said.