With all the change and new additions in the Buccaneers' secondary this offseason, there was a little bit of room for the emergence of a true leader in the group. That leader has come in the form of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, the team's 2016 first-round pick.
Personality-wise, Hargreaves has always had it. He's very vocal, very encouraging and where veteran cornerback Brent Grimes prefers to lead quietly by example, Hargreaves is happy to take on the role of hype man. He's loud and he's noticeable in the best way. He wears matching tennis-ball yellow cleats and gloves to practice. He bounces around the sidelines when reserves are on the field. He's the first to helmet-slap or high five a teammate who just made a big play after yelling words of encouragement from the sidelines.
That's always been Hargreaves. What's been different about this preseason has been what he's done personally to better himself. His increased confidence is apparent and he's always stepping up to the front of the line in individual drills, showing the Bucs' now pretty young secondary how to do things.
"I think Vernon has really asserted himself," Head Coach Dirk Koetter said of the third-year player. "Vernon likes to be vocal on the field, which we encourage. I mean, communication is a good thing. I think Vern has come out there every day he's practiced and brought energy."
That energy comes in many forms, from attacking practice dummies full-on to dancing in warmups, whether in practice or before a game. Speaking of games, Hargreaves has had a couple good outings this preseason as well. He was the starting outside cornerback in the Bucs' 'dress rehearsal game' against the Detroit Lions on Friday night in which the first-team and likely starters got a significant amount of reps. He looked to break up two passes inside the red zone on the first two defensive series – one on the goal line, but was only credited with one by Buccaneers coaches and it didn't show up on the official stat sheet. That instance on the goal line came on the Lions' first possession, they drove down the field and faced a third-and-6 situation. After being flushed out of the pocket to the right side, Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford let one loose toward the end zone in the direction of receiver Golden Tate, who had Hargreaves in tow in very tight coverage.
View photos of the Buccaneers' preseason Week 3 game against the Detroit Lions.
In addition to starting on the outside, Hargreaves is also thought to be the team's starting nickelback. Especially with rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart sidelined with injury at the moment, Hargreaves has gotten a lot of work in each spot. Taking that double-duty into the regular season is something Coach Koetter sees as a possibility.
"I mean, he can definitely do it, he's proven that he can do it," said Koetter. "You're just in nickel so much more than you are base anymore. You know, he probably hasn't gotten quite as much work outside as we would've liked but it is what it is."
The balance between being one of the starting outside corners as well as the team's go-to nickelback has seemed to aid in settling Hargreaves down rather than stressing him out, though. It's been a big part of adding to his confidence, his coaches say. He's got the approval of his head coach, too, this training camp.
"Of course, he's playing two positions and there's some competition involved there but I think he's risen to that level. We're happy with where he's at right now."