Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will tell you flat out he didn’t quite feel like himself on the football field the first couple of months of his rookie year.
One look at the stats he produced tells you the same thing.
During what he eventually admitted was a bit of a transition period, the Buccaneers 2016 first-round draft pick broke up just four passes and failed to pick one off through his first 11 games.
Finally, after Week 12, the lights went on.
In the final five weeks of the season Hargreaves became more of the playmaker the Bucs expected him to be and finished up by breaking up four passes and registering his first NFL pick during that stretch.
The Bucs are obviously expecting that trend to continue into this year, but to make sure it does coach Dirk Koetter will once again be urging Hargreaves to be more assertive on the field during games.
“I think Vernon needs to be more aggressive,” Koetter said during a breakfast chat with reporters at the NFL Owner’s Meetings last week. “I think sometimes Vernon is too content to just cover his guy.
“(Last year), they (would) throw it to him and he was right there and he’d make the tackle, but instead of that, we’re like, ‘Vernon, scoot up and make that play.’
“I mean, he made those plays in practice, so I just think the next step from him is OK, ‘Year 1, I don’t always know what to expect. Now in Year 2, I know what to expect.’ He’s got to take the ball away more.’’
He should get plenty of chances. Perhaps as a result of his passive approach, Bucs opponents picked on Hargraves a lot last year, throwing the ball his way 113 times.
That made Hargreaves the most targeted cornerback in the league, according to ProFootballFocus, which also noted that Hargreaves surrendered a league-high 80 receptions for 1,069 yards.
According to PFF’s breakdown, Hargreaves was the only cornerback in the league to give up more than 1,000 yards receiving but Koetter expects to see a big improvement in 2017.
“I think Vernon gained confidence as the season went on last year,’’ he said. “And Vernon is a ball-hawker. He’s got the capability to create turnovers just like Brent Grimes does on the other side.’’