Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has a special birthday present he's bringing home to his mother, Jackie -- a game ball from his interception against the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday night.
Hargreaves picked off Andy Dalton at the goal line for a touchdown-saving interception in the first quarter. And he did it doing exactly what head coach Dirk Koetter told him to focus on this offseason: by being aggressive.
"I just took a chance," said Hargreaves, the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. "There wasn’t a lot of space behind him, so I took a chance. I was being aggressive, and I happened to make the play.”
"They came out, they had tight splits, I figured it may be something outside," Hargreaves said. "I just took a chance and it happened to work out for me."
Hargreaves also had a key pass breakup on third down that forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal, turning in one of the finest defensive performances of any Bucs player in their preseason opener.
Hargreaves is hoping he'll get his hands on more balls this year, especially after an up-and-down rookie season. He was tested week after week, facing a never-ending gauntlet of receivers that included Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Brandin Cooks. Plus, there are the two he sees in practice every day: Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
“For me personally, I didn’t get enough [interceptions] last year," Hargreaves said. "I needed to get more. I just couldn’t find it. I couldn’t get where I was comfortable."
"Now I’m a little more comfortable starting off," Hargreaves said. "I’m starting to see the whole picture, starting to see the whole formations, and starting to recognize plays a little bit better.”
The game is starting to slow down for him and he has more familiarity playing in Year 2 of Mike Smith's defense. It's shown in practice, where he routinely has been getting picks and breaking up passes.
It's helped his confidence, although that's not an area he felt he was lacking in.
"I don’t think I had a lack of confidence, but one thing I did lack was patience," Hargreaves said. "I was rushing, trying to be the best already. I had to go back in the office, go back, get to work, work on my craft and it’s paying off for me. I feel better. I feel like a different player.”