It's Vernon Hargreaves' job to lose. He will begin the off-season as the Bucs starting right cornerback and move to the slot when the team goes to five defensive backs in their nickel package.
"We told everybody that we want everybody to come in with the mindset that they're going to be the starter at their position,'' defensive coordinator Mike Smith. "Vernon's position is corner and nickel. Corner in base coverage and nickel in our sub package. And we want these guys to go out and compete. We don't care where they were drafted, how much they get paid. We're going to put the best 11 guys out there on every snap.
"But in terms of Vernon specifically, Vernon is competing to be the starting corner in base and probably would be the guy we move in because I think he's got a better skill set in the nickel position in our sub package.''
Entering his third season, Hargreaves hasn't lived up to expectations as the No. 11 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The former Florida and Wharton High School star has only one interception, which came during his rookie season. Last year, he struggled early at right cornerback and moved inside to the slot before suffering a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve.
You don't use a first round pick on a defensive back that you believe won't start the game and can only help you in the nickel defensive package. That doesn't begin to address the video posted on Instagram in March which appears to show Hargreaves smoking a cigarette of unknown substance.
"I think he's just going to help us as a football player overall. Vernon is smart,'' secondary coach Jon Hoke said Wednesday. "Smart always figures it out in my opinion. He knows what he needs to work on. He's got to be better outside. We feel very comfortable with him inside. When we moved him inside, I was like, "Wow, you have good recall,' and he said, 'It's the first position I learned when I got here,' because that's where he started. So, he's going to be apt at both. We're giving him an opportunity to play at both and then let them all compete from there."
According to Hoke, Hargreaves knows this could be a make or break year. He says Hargreaves is serious about his craft and expects a bounce back season.
"He's got to play better, we've got to coach him better,'' Hoke said. "He knows it. We all know it.
"If you were in the meeting room, you'd know it just hasn't transcended to the game field. He's been up and down, too. I think we moved him to nickel versus Buffalo and he played really well inside. Then we had an injury so he had to move back outside versus Carolina. He played really well outside versus Carolina. He's just got to continue to focus on being consistent in what he does. That's a big, big part of it.''