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Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves answering Dirk Koetter with splash plays

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter issued a challenge for cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III this offseason: play more aggressive, and don't just be content with tackling, but make a play on the ball.

The 2016 11th overall pick has answered that challenge, picking off quarterback Jameis Winston to open mandatory minicamp.

"I'll probably say Vernon Hargreaves is probably at the top of the defense as far as splash plays," said Koetter. "From the start of OTAs through now, 12 practices, Vernon has done a very nice job of playing more aggressive and trying to take the ball away. Obviously he's got to carry it over to the season, but [we're] very pleased with what he's doing."

Teammate Mike Evans has noticed a change in Hargreaves, too.

"In OTAs, I noticed that he's talking more," Evans said. "At first, he was real quiet. He's talking more, he's showing out, he's making plays. He looks real good."

Hargreaves said he hasn't done anything differently this offseason. He's just getting more comfortable, which has meant less thinking, and it's allowed him to move more naturally and play to his instincts.

"Last year, [I was] just getting used to it, getting used to this game speed, better receivers, better players, better quarterbacks," Hargreaves said. "Now I'm little bit more comfortable. I'm starting to feel myself a little bit more now and hopefully I can just continue to get better."

Hargreaves was thrown into the deep end on Day 1 last season and played more defensive snaps than all but one rookie in the league -- Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Hargreaves had to play two positions out of necessity, lining up on the outside and moving inside for nickel passing situations. There was no hand-holding and a lot of expectations. At times, he lived up to them -- he picked off Drew Brees in a crucial 16-11 win against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14.

But he also had his share of struggles -- he was no match for Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, who torched the Bucs' secondary for 281 yards in a Week 8 overtime loss. Hargreaves missed three tackles that game and quarterback Derek Carr set a Raiders' franchise record with 513 passing yards that day.

"It just showed me what it's like playing in this league," Hargreaves said. "That's what you expect. All of the receivers are top-notch. You've got to be on your game every game."

He's getting that same type of education daily at practice with DeSean Jackson, a player with more speed than he's ever encountered, college and pro. He also gets a daily size mismatch going up against Evans.

"You have no choice but to get better," Hargreaves said. "You can't -- there are no off days, even at practice, when you've got guys as good as [those] two on the outside. Every rep is like a game rep."