TAMPA – You don’t have to be a football expert to see that Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has been playing soft this year. We’re talking, of course, about the way he’s played in pass coverage, where he has regularly lined up 8-12 yards off the line of scrimmage.
You might, however, need to be an expert to suggest that Hargreaves’ approach is a result of a lack of confidence or anything other than defensive design. At the very least, you might need to be someone who has stood in Hargreaves shoes.
Ricky Reynolds has. He’s a former Bucs cornerback who started 138 of the 147 games he played during a 10-year NFL career that began in Tampa in 1987 and ended in New England in 1996 and now moonlights as an analyst for WTVT Fox-13’s coverage of the Bucs in Tampa.
Reynolds has watched Hargreaves closely and he strongly suggested in the wake of the Bucs 19-14 loss to the Patriots last weekend that the second-year pro out Florida is playing the way he is because he’s afraid he’s going to give up a big play.
“He’s definitely playing too soft,’’ Reynolds said during Scott Smith’s Tailgate Sunday show this past weekend. “And I think it’s all mental. I think he’s a guy that has the skills and all the abilities to make plays but he’s thinking he’s going to get beat deep every time.’’
Reynolds went on to say that Hargreaves needs to rely on his skill set and training and challenge receivers more, which is precisely what the Bucs asked of their 2016 first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall) prior to the start of the season.
Just in case you don’t remember, we’ll remind you that Hargreaves was targeted more than any other defender in the NFL last year (113 times, according to Pro Football Focus) and largely because of that soft approach, he intercepted just one pass, broke up only nine and gave up more yards (1,069) than any other defender in the league.
Despite the Bucs pleas for a more aggressive style, that trend has continued this year. Hargreaves came out of the Bucs game against the Patriots last Thursday as the most forgiving cornerback in the league, having allowed a league-high 354 yards, according to PFF.
That was 20 yards more than Terrance Mitchell had allowed for the Chiefs and it’s possible Hargreaves has now fallen behind Mitchell, who has played one more game than Hargreaves, but even if he has the numbers just aren’t good.
Hargreaves came out of college as a very confident, almost cocky, player with a skill set that had scouts predicting Pro Bowls for him for years to come. Outside of practice, though, the Bucs haven’t seen much of that and teams are taking advantage.
Against the Patriots, for example, Tom Brady threw in Hargreaves’ direction six times and he wound up producing a perfect passer rating of 158.3 by doing so as he was 6-for-6 on those throws for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Now, that was Tom Brady. He has a tendency to that, even against the league’s best cornerbacks. But we’ve seen the likes of Case Keenum and Mike Glennon take advantage of Hargreaves, too, and that folks, is not by design.