Perhaps the Bucs have found the man to lead them out of the wilderness on defense in Vernon Hargreaves.
If only every player was an amnesiac like the Bucs’ second-year defensive back. No player is better when the water line breaks, the kitchen fills with smoke and the mortgage is late.
Hargreaves was chasing receivers through the end zone for the first five games of the season. He was targeted by opposing quarterbacks with impunity, called out by coaches and lost his starting job.
But none of it seemed to leave a scratch cheap authentic jerseys on Hargreaves’ tungsten ego.
“He’s got tremendous confidence in himself,” rookie safety Justin Evans said. “Regardless what anyone says about him, he just has the utmost confidence I’ve ever seen with any player.”
Two weeks ago in the loss at Buffalo, having lost his starting job to Robert McClain and moved to nickel corner — where he played only 36 snaps — Hargreaves did not allow a single catch on four targets and had one pass defensed.
Then Sunday in a home loss to Carolina, with McClain out with a concussion, Hargreaves shifted back to his normal spot at right cornerback. He played 64 snaps and was targeted seven times by quarterback Cam Newton, a team high. But Hargreaves allowed only two catches for 13 yards and had another pass defensed.
What’s more, veteran defensive back Brent Grimes did not play due to a shoulder injury. So Hargreaves was playing opposite cornerback Ryan Smith, who made only the second start of his career.
“The film doesn’t lie,” Hare_SDHpgreaves said. “We played better. Especially me and (Smith). Selfishly, we had to play better, and we did. We worked hard all week, so we accomplished that goal, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to win.”
Newton had a bad day throwing, and the wind gusts likely contributed to Hargreaves’ success. That won’t be the case Sunday when the Bucs play in the sterile conditions of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans against Drew Brees.
Former Bucs coach Raheem Morris used to say this about the Saints quarterback: “I know two things about Drew Brees. He’s going to throw for 300 yards and three touchdown passes.”
“Well, he has definitely had a Hall of Fame career,” Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said of Brees. “He is in our division. I’ve had to play him as a division foe twice a year. I can’t say enough about his skill set, not only physically, but mentally, too.
“He is a guy that can get (the Saints) into the right plays. He has seen it all. There is not anything new that you’re going to show him, and he’s a heck of a player.”
The Saints are more balanced on offense this season. They run the ball well with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. But Brees is having another terrific season, having completed more than 70 percent of his passes, with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
It won’t be easy in the Big Easy for the Bucs’ beleaguered defense, which owns the league’s 30th-ranked passing defense and has a league-worst seven sacks in as many games.
But though other players might continue their personal crisis of confidence, Hargreaves hasn’t just turned the page, he’s trying to rewrite his resume.
It’s not all that different from a year ago, when the former Wharton High and Florida Gator standout was the only defensive back in the league to allow more than 1,000 yards passing but improved his performance in the second half of the season. That contributed to a five-game winning streak for the Bucs.
“I thought both Vernon and Ryan (Smith) did a nice job last week,” Mike Smith. “They got up and challenged the receivers, and they did a nice job of getting their hands on those big guys. Those are big, physical guys, and they stepped up to the challenge of trying to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage. We did a good job of getting them just off the mark. And when they’re just off the mark and not clean and the quarterback is missing by 6 inches, then we’ve got a successful play.”
When the 34-year-old Grimes is out, the Bucs have a relatively inexperienced secondary. Besides Hargreaves and Evans, Ryan Smith also is in his second year. Bad plays will happen to all of them.
But strange as it may seem, at 2-5, maybe the Bucs should follow Hargreaves’ c’est la vie attitude.
“We’re tired of getting embarrassed,” Hargreaves said. “Tired of the same old, same old. So something has to change.”