A few snaps into a one-on-one session between wide receivers and cornerbacks on Thursday morning, Brent Grimes lined up across from DeSean Jackson, split wide to the right. One-on-ones heavily favor the offense due to the lack of any pass rush or help defenders, and the corners have to prepare for short and long routes.
In this case, Jackson went deep, got a step and hauled in a perfect throw from Jameis Winston. It was a good thing to see from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense and nothing particularly troubling for Grimes. The veteran corner has had an outstanding first week of training camp following a very good first season in a Buccaneer uniform.
WATCH: TOP PLAYS FROM TRAINING CAMP
Still, second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves wasn't too upset that he missed that particular turn in the one-on-one rotation, at least this one time. He's had his share of covering Jackson over the past week and he has witnessed the top-end speed that the big-play receiver still possesses in full.
"Did it surprise me? No, but I didn't know it was like that the first time I covered him," said Hargreaves. "I knew he was fast, but it's a whole different ballgame when he's lined up in front of you.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' training camp practice on Thursday.
"He's fast – really fast. I mean, he's a great player. It's his 10th year in the league. You see him every year – he makes big plays, he makes splash plays and that's what he does. Nothing has changed about him. He is dynamic. He's a playmaker. I'm excited to watch him go against other DBs for once."
If that had been Hargreaves on Jackson for that one-on-one rep, he might have been advised by Head Coach Dirk Koetter to forget it and move on. Koetter said on Thursday that Hargreaves is playing with more confidence in the run-up to his second NFL season, and that's a big step for him.
"Vernon's playing a lot more aggressive, which we asked him to do," said the coach. "He just seems lighter on his feet; I know he's lost a little bit of weight. He's confident, and those corners have got to be confident. They've got to have short memories. Brent Grimes is playing lights-out right now and Vernon's right on his heels."
Grimes joined the Buccaneers as a free agent in the spring of 2016, just a couple months before the team drafted Hargreaves with the 11th overall pick. The two combined to start almost every defensive snap last year. Grimes tied for the team lead with four interceptions and paced all NFL players with 24 passes defensed. Hargreaves had one pick and 10 passes defensed but saw the steady progression one would expect from a talented rookie who is getting a full dose of playing time. Koetter began preaching the idea of more aggression to his rookie as the season went on, and Hargreaves has been able to adopt that approach thanks to a better feel for the game and the defense.
"I have a whole 16 games under my belt now, so it's a little bit easier now," said Hargreaves. "I understand the defense now, so I'm just playing faster."
Koetter wasn't the only one pushing Hargreaves to be more aggressive. Winston, who stands to have a tougher time on the practice field the better Hargreaves gets, urged his fellow first-round pick to let his natural talents take over.
"I told him before we started, I said, 'Vernon, you've had one year in this thing, man – be aggressive. Be Vernon Hargreaves,'" related Winston. "He was just like, 'Yeah man, I'm ready.' So he's a competitor. He is learning from one of the best DBs in the game across from him, Brent Grimes. It's great that they get to watch film together. He gets to see how aggressive Brent is and his techniques and he takes that into his game."
Says Hargreaves of that pep talk from the young quarterback who has quickly grown into a team leader: "I took that in stride. I took that and had to grow from it. It was tough for me last year, you know, just getting adjusted to the speed. There are great players in the league – as everybody knows – but now that I've played a full season, I'm more comfortable. Like I said, I'm understanding the defense and I'm just playing faster."
It was clear from the beginning of the Bucs' offseason program that Hargreaves had taken the "be aggressive" message to hurt. He might have been the most impressive performer on defense during that 10-week program, making some sort of flashy play in nearly every practice. That has carried over into his second NFL training camp…which happens to feel quite a bit different from his first one. He's so much more comfortable now that he's taken to dispensing advice to the team's newest cornerbacks.
"You know, I feel like a veteran now just from playing [those] 16 games," said Hargreaves. "I've seen a lot. I got beat a lot. I made some plays, so now when the rookies come in I have something to say to them – a little here, a little there. That's all I needed. Brent would tell me a little something here, a little something there – you can't give the young guys too much stuff. They're already thinking about a lot, they've already got a lot on their plate, so every time if I see something that I was doing maybe, I'll give them a little pointer. It's just little bits of information here and there."