Bucs improve their secondary with Hargreaves

by Gary Shelton on April 29, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Friday, 6 a.m.

Last year, they drafted so they could pass the football.

This year, they drafted so they could stop it.

The Tampa Bay Bucs selected University of Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in the first round of Thursday night's draft, after initially trading back two picks to pick up an extra fourth-round draft pick. General manager Jason Licht insisted that Hargreaves was the player the Bucs would have taken if they had picked ninth. If that's true, the Bucs picked up a fourth-rounder for nothing.

On a defense, the No. 1 weapon is usually a pass-rushing end. But cornerbacks are close behind. The NFL has become a passing league, and controlling that is vital. If the Bucs are right on Hargreaves –

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and his lack of height has been questioned — then the Bucs should be much better on the back end this season.

"I thought he was the best cover corner in the draft, the best pure cover corner,” Licht said. “When you say cover corner sometimes you think that the guy doesn't play in the run game, but this guy does. Like I said, he's built like a running back."

When they spoke on the phone, Licht asked Hargreaves “Are you ready to be a Buc?''

Hargreaves' answer: “Are you kidding me?”

The Bucs will enter today's second-round needing defensive ends.

“Vernon is a guy we feel brings a lot of versatility,” said Licht. “He can play outside and he can play inside. Great players come in a lot of different sizes and different packages. We feel that with his thickness and his build, he's a sturdy player, he can press, tackle, very quick and athletic and has good ball skills.”

As for the concerns about Hargreaves' height, Licht said the team was not worried.

“You can ask Brent Grimes if a lack of height has affected his career,” Licht said. “You can ask Ronde Barber if a lack of height affected his career. He plays big. He has instincts, football intelligence, quickness, intelligence.”

The search for tall corners has been in vogue lately to match the height of wide receivers. But Hargreaves enters with a bit of swagger and a lot of playmaking ability. In his three All-SEC seasons, Hargreaves broke up 38 passes and had 10 interceptions.

"I have confidence and I’m not afraid to show it,” Hargreaves said. “I’m very confident in myself, very confident in my abilities and that’s how I carry myself. I carry myself to a high standard.

"I’m just an overall good football player. Love to play ball, can adapt to any type of defense, any type of receiver. I’ve covered them all. I can play bump coverage, can play man coverage. All of that is in my game and now it’s time to perfect my craft.”

Of course, it's the first day of the draft, and no one thinks about a bust on the first day of the draft. No one is worried that Hargreaves isn't a couple of inches taller. No one is listening to the talk that his play could have been better with the Gators this year.

Then again, there is this. Do you remember how tall the Bucs' corners were last year? Any of them? No, because they weren't close enough to the opposing wide receiver to measure. Fans only notice height when a corner has a receiver covered. The Bucs didn't.

"I really like the kid’s confidence,” Coach Dirk Koetter said. “I liked his confidence a lot. I thought he was very articulate, I thought he had bright eyes, I thought he was eager to learn, I thought he had a short memory. I think at corner in the NFL – the guys he’s going to be covering in our division — he’s going to need to have a short memory.

"This guy reminds me a lot of Brent Grimes. One of the things Jason does is we do ‘comparable players’ and this guy has excellent plant and drive, he’s quick, he’s tough. He can play off, he can play press, he can play supporting the run. He can play on both sides, possibly play inside at nickel. We’ll see when he gets here, but I think it’s a big win.”

Hargreaves, too, thinks the fit is perfect.

"It’s surreal, it’s surreal,” Hargreaves said. “I don’t really know what to feel right now. Super excited and kind of ready to get started. Ready to put some work in.”

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