With a name like a banker, one may simply gloss over the name Vernon Hargreaves III on the Florida Gator roster, possibly stopping to note and giggle at its Thurston Howell-ish timbre.
But once Hargreaves takes the field, the giggling of opponents seems to fall quite silent. In short, he's the best damn cornerback Alabama's elite wide receiver corps will face this year. Bar-none, Hargreaves will challenge the Tide receivers, and most notably All-American receiver Amari Cooper in what will be Alabama's biggest test to date in the young season on Saturday.
Hargreaves (if 100% healthy) will be a nightmare for an Alabama offense that is still gaining confidence in the arm of presumed starting quarterback Blake Sims. To date, Bama has relied on the short passing game, and in particular Cooper's dynamic yards-after-catch, to frustrate opposing defenses. But Hargreaves will not stand for much of that, as the aggressive corner will press Cooper and attempt to knock him off of those short routes, disrupting the timing of the passing game and forcing Alabama to mine performances from other receivers on the roster not named Cooper.
Be sure, if you don't know Vernon Hargreaves III now...you will know him after Saturday.
Who in the heck is Vernon Hargreaves III?
Hargreaves is now a sophomore, but his true freshman campaign in 2013 was nothing short of outstanding. The 5'11", 195 pound corner out of Wharton High School in Tampa was recruited by most of the defensive powers in the SEC (Alabama included), but settled on Florida. During his senior campaign, Hargreaves amassed 110 tackles with five interceptions, good enough to earn him a spot in the Army All-American game and a ranking as the number one CB recruit in the nation (Rivals).
He was immediately cast into the fray in 2013 after the Gators experienced a historically bad string of injuries on both sides of the ball. Hargreaves played in 10 of 12 games for the Gators last year, and he acquitted himself quite well. It's not easy to become an impact player in the SEC, especially at a skill position like corner. However, Hargreaves flourished in the Gator defense, tallying 38 tackles with 11 passes-broken-up and three interceptions.
Despite a late camp bone-bruise in August, Hargreaves has apparently returned to form in 2014. In the Gators first contest with Eastern Michigan, the corner had two tackles and a pass defensed. He was more active in the Gators' SEC opener versus a resurgent Kentucky team last week, recording five tackles and four passes defensed.
Hargreaves would remind Bama fans of an amalgam of former corners Dee Milliner and Javy Arenas. Hargreaves combines the quickness ad adaptability of Arenas with the physical style and size that Milliner used to great effect in Coach Nick Saban's defense. At 5'11" and nearly 200 pounds, it's easy to see why Saban and Company were making a hard push for Hargreaves, as he perfectly fits the mold of the prototypical corner in Saban's defense. And don't underestimate Hargreaves' ability to play the run and blitz from the end from time to time, as his speed and athleticism make him a weapon no matter where he lines up on the field.
Florida Coach Will Muschamp, a defensive-minded head coach who played defense at Georgia, loves what Hargreaves brings to the table for his defense, not just as a physical specimen, but as a player and leader (according to an interview in the Orlando Sentinel found here.)
"Well, I think it's the intangibles. He's been raised right. Saw his mom Saturday. She was here in town making sure he is doing right. That is where a lot of it goes to. I worry about other guys that maybe aren't as mature, aren't as hungry, aren't as driven. I've seen nothing in his approach in the off season program to spring practice, to the summer program, his work ethic, his buy-in, to continue to be strive to get better. He's a guy, if we start lifting at 10:00, he'll be in there at 9:30 stretching on his own. When weights are over, he's stretching. He's a pro at what he does. He understands that part of it and what it takes to be successful and expect for him to have another good year."
Sounds like the kind of player who would thrive in Tuscaloosa, no?
And if you aren't impressed by his measurables, his performance as a true freshman in the toughest league in the nation and the praise of his coaches, then maybe you should take a look at this...
Yep, dude is officially a freak. Hope Coop is locked and loaded.
What to expect from Vernon Hargreaves III against Alabama?
Obviously, Coach Boom has been around long enough to know that in this particular gunfight, he has no choice but to put his best corner on Alabama's best offensive weapon this season. Amari Cooper is not only Alabama's most explosive playmaker, but he to date has been a huge part of the Bama offense and in particular, Blake Sims' coming out party as Bama's starting quarterback.
But what will that look like on Saturday? Florida runs an aggressive defense not unlike the one employed by Bama. In Florida's version of the 4-3, expect to see physical corner play, as even outside of Hargreaves, the Florida secondary is extremely talented and well-coached. Hargreaves has the skill (and confidence) to jam Cooper off the line, knocking him off of the precise short routes that he and Sims have used to great effect thus far in the season. Sims will not find an open Cooper nearly as often this week as in weeks past, as Hargreaves will try to smother Cooper and keep him from gaining the space he needs to be most effective as an offensive weapon.
Don't expect a huge game from Coop. He will make his plays, but Hargreaves is good enough to keep him bottled up in large part. Cooper usually has the advantage on jump balls, but after seeing the jumping exhibition linked above, I'm not so sure that's a given against a guy with Hargreaves' athleticism.
If Hargreaves can take away Cooper, it may affect Sims ability to execute the short game. It has become apparent through three games that Coop is Sims' security blanket, and if Hargreaves has him covered up, Sims will have to reach for another comforter from the closet (I nominate O.J. Howard).
Speaking of Howard, the lock-down nature of Hargreaves play could mean more looks for the explosive tight end. The unintended consequence of having Hargreaves cover Coop is that there will be room for other receivers to make plays, if Sims can find them and hit them comfortably. This would seem a prime opportunity to get the ball in the hands of Howard, as he will be able to exploit mismatches in coverages against the bulky but athletic Gator linebackers and safeties. This is very exciting.
Regardless of who he's covering, Hargreaves will be the most impactful player for the Gator defense versus Alabama. Because of his ability to match wits with quarterbacks and his physical prowess in defending opponents' best receiving threats, Hargreaves is a nightmare that SEC defensive coordinators will deal with for at least the next couple years.
This week, it's Bama's turn.
(And now, a few videos for your viewing pleasure. Click here to see Hargreaves' freak athleticism, here to see what he had to say about playing Bama, and here to see Hargreaves at 2014 SEC Media Days.)