New Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians spoke at NFL League Meetings last week about the confidence and plan he has for cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who is coming off shoulder surgery back in September of last year. The former first-round pick has battled injury that’s kept him out the majority of the last two seasons, but looking toward 2019, Hargreaves is not only healthy, but has the full support of his new coach and the rest of the staff.
What Arians mentioned specifically is that Hargreaves will stay at outside corner after he was utilized more inside at nickel corner in previous seasons. Arians also made a point to say the new defensive scheme will include playing more of a press style with cornerbacks, rather than have them read and react from an off position.
“Get up and get [on them],” Arians said during league meetings. “'I've got you – beat my ass.' We're not sitting back, reading and reacting, schemes and stuff. We’ll have some of that, but we're going to get in face and play man-to-man and get after you."
It was music to Hargreaves’ ears, who was primarily a press outside corner in college. One thing this coaching staff has stressed is playing to each player’s strengths. That’s exactly what keeping Hargreaves on the outside is about.
“It’s everything that I do well,” Hargreaves said. “It’s kind of like taking me back to college. It’s that same scheme – blitz the quarterback, man-to-man on the outside and let’s get after it.”
What really struck a chord with Hargreaves, though, was the confidence Arians already has in him without the two spending any significant time together since Hargreaves has been in the league. Arians revealed in those league meetings that back in 2016 when Hargreaves was coming out of Florida, Arizona, where Arians was head coach at the time, had the cornerback very high on their draft board. The Cardinals had done extensive evaluating of Hargreaves and really liked his style of play. Now, with a new defensive scheme, Arians has the opportunity to showcase the talent he saw back then by getting Hargreaves back to what he does best.
“Playing outside is what I want to do,” Hargreaves said. “That’s what I do. I’m smiling, I don’t have words for it. I don’t know why Coach Arians feels that way about me, but I love it. He doesn’t know me, he doesn’t have to say anything about me. But that’s that confidence that I need. That’s that confidence that we need as a secondary. We’re excited. The whole group is.”
Playing in the last level of the defense is a fickle thing. It requires a certain kind of mental toughness and a short memory. As a corner, the receivers you’re guarding are going to get the best of you sometimes. Hargreaves has said as much. But his goal, and the goal of every other defensive back, is to get the receiver more times than they get you. As a coach, the faith required in your players has to be unwavering. To have that from a brand new staff right off the bat has seemed to already do wonders for guys like Hargreaves.
“It’s like having a parent telling you, ‘Good job. You’re doing good. Come on, you’ve got it. Keep going,’” Hargreaves said. “It’s like that authoritative figure, that father figure almost-type telling you that you’ve got it, you can do it, you don’t need anybody else. It’s just confidence. It makes us all feel better. It makes everybody feel better when the head man believes in everybody.”
Arians has said on multiple occasions that he believes in the talent on the Bucs’ roster overall, even more so after having the chance to sit down and evaluate each player with his staff. It was just a few months ago that Arians was enjoying retirement but decided to come back into coaching for the right fit. The Bucs proved to be that fit due largely to the talent already here and Arians is not shying away from vocalizing how much he believes in the players here. Even if he doesn’t know them personally all that well yet. With the start of Phase I in the offseason programming beginning Monday, that will be priority number one. For now, he’s instilled his confidence from afar and the effect on the buy-in of the players cannot be understated.
“That’s what kind of surprised me the most when Coach Arians did his interview, speaking so highly on me, it was just like, why? For what? He doesn’t know me, he doesn’t know what I do,” Hargreaves said. “But on the other hand it’s extreme confidence on my end. I mean, I want to play for him. That’s who I want to play for now. This is where I want to be. This is always where I’ve wanted to be but when the head guy puts himself on the line for you, it kind of does something for you. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it gives you a good feeling on the inside. It makes you want to play.”