Vernon Hargreaves' struggles 'extremely' concerning for Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. -- Nobody from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is exactly sure what's gotten into second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves -- not head coach Dirk Koetter nor defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Last year's 11th overall draft pick has given up some big plays the past few games and it's costing them.

When a reporter asked Koetter on Monday how concerned he was about Hargreaves' performance, he responded, "Extremely, extremely."

"Vern is not in a very good streak of games right now," Koetter said. "We asked Vern to be more aggressive this year and to be more aggressive with his coverage and he started out doing that. He started out doing that in OTAs and training camp, but he has not played his best football these last three games."

When asked about that, Hargreaves, 22, said, "He should be [concerned]. He should be. I'm not making any plays, and I'm not producing. And this league is about production."

He is giving opposing wide receivers too much cushion, even though the coaching staff hasn't asked him to do that. He's not attacking the ball the way he did this offseason and during the preseason, when he had two interceptions. He's also struggling in run support, which was his biggest issue against the Arizona Cardinals last week.

Hargreaves was out of position to make a tackle on Adrian Peterson's 11-yard run in the first quarter, allowing the running back to get to the perimeter. The same thing happened again on a 17-yard run. Hargreaves missed three total tackles against the run in the Cardinals game. In the four runs that Peterson had outside the left tackle and at Hargreaves, Peterson had 37 rushing yards before contact, averaging 9.25 yards before contact per run -- significantly higher than all other directions. Hargreaves' role is to keep contain on the outside.

He only allowed 50 receiving yards in that game, but two weeks ago against the New England Patriots, he surrendered six catches on six targets for 94 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 158.3, according to Pro Football Focus.

He's getting targeted heavily by opposing quarterbacks.

In a clip from Showtime's "Inside the NFL", New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning rounded up wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall, and told them, "We're attacking 28 all day. Going after his ass, alright?"

Hargreaves allowed Manning to complete eight of 12 passing attempts for 97 yards, with a 91.3 passer rating. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a 128.7 passer rating when targeting him this season, compared to the 68.8 allowed by veteran Brent Grimes. Through five games, Hargreaves has given up 404 total passing yards and three touchdowns.

Last season he was the most-targeted cornerback in the league, in large part because Grimes, a four-time Pro Bowler, is on the opposite side. Opposing quarterbacks completed 71 percent of their passes when targeting Hargreaves.

"I wouldn't throw at that guy, either," Hargreaves said, emphasizing that he needs to be more aggressive. "At the end of the day I've just got to make more plays. I've got to make more plays, plain and simple. It's not rocket science."

"We've got to tackle better. We've got to play better. We've got to get our hands on more balls," Hargreaves said. "I know this business. I know what I have to do to get better. I know what I have to do to start making more plays. It's on me. I have to make more plays ... find that ball."

The coaching staff has spoken to Hargreaves about it. They don't believe it's due to lack of effort in the film room or lack of confidence. But it's concerning given that Hargreaves has excelled at every level and appeared well-positioned to make a big jump this season, but hasn't.

"We've got to help all of our players when they're not performing," Smith said. "That is what coaching is all about. We've got to help him. There's a number of ways we can do that. We want to make our players the most efficient players they can be. When they are not efficient, we as coaches have to come up with ways to help them."

Hargreaves added: "If you can't see that you're not playing well, then you're in the wrong league. If you can't see what the problem is, or what the coaches are saying or what the film says, then you're probably not in the right profession."