Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter wants to see more out of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in his second season, believing the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft didn't play aggressively enough last year.
At the NFL owners meetings, Koetter told reporters, "I think Vernon needs to be more aggressive." This is consistent with what Koetter told Hargreaves during the season, that he needed to attack the short routes in front of him.
"I think, sometimes, Vernon was too content to just cover his guy," Koetter said. "They threw it to him and he was right there and made the tackle. Instead of, ‘Vernon, scoot up and make that play!’"
Koetter wasn't accusing Hargreaves of being lackadaisical. He believes confidence affected him and that's why he appeared to play timid at times.
"He was making those plays in practice," Koetter said. "I just think the next step from him is OK, ‘Year 1, I don’t always know what to expect. Year 2, I know what to expect now.’ You've got to take the ball away more.”
Hargreaves and the entire Bucs secondary struggled significantly against Oakland Raiders wideouts Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper in Week 8 last season. In the fourth quarter, when the Bucs had a 24-17 lead, Hargreaves surrendered a 31-yard catch to Cooper that put the Raiders inside the 15-yard line. He also failed to wrap up Crabtree on third-and-2.
Against the Saints in Week 16, there was a 17-yard pass to Michael Thomas on a third-and-16 that stood out. Although to be fair, Hargreaves left that game twice because of an injury.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hargreaves surrendered 1,069 receiving yards and was the only player in the league to give up more than 1,000.
But he also had some strong moments too, such as setting up Lavonte David’s interception return for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers by deflecting a slant pass intended for Tyrell Williams. In Week 14, he intercepted Drew Brees on a pass that was deflected by Kwon Alexander. He also deflected a pass intended for Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin that set up a Daryl Smith interception in Week 5.
Hargreaves played more snaps on defense than all but one rookie in the NFL last year: Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Hargreaves also had to learn to play two positions -- inside in the nickel and on the outside -- in Mike Smith's defense. Those positions require different sets of skills and he would play both in games, meaning he wasn't squaring off against just one or two receivers. It wasn't until Jude Adjei-Barimah emerged as a viable slot defender that Hargreaves lined up exclusively on the outside.
And as Pro Football Focus pointed out, Hargreaves saw a league-high 113 targets and 80 receptions in part because of the way Brent Grimes played opposite him.
Koetter acknowledged that he was tested week after week.
"Talk about baptism under fire. Right off the bat, he was going against Julio Jones in Week 1," Koetter said. "He’s going against excellent players every week. I think Vernon gained confidence as the season went on. But Vernon is a ball-hawker. I mean, he’s got the capability to create turnovers like Brent Grimes does on the other side."