Vernon Hargreaves turns page quickly after Bradley Roby trade

Vernon Hargreaves has learned how to compartmentalize and adapt quickly in the NFL.

Tasked with starting every game a year ago when corner Gareon Conley experienced complications from his ankle surgery, including nerve damage and compartment syndrome, Hargreaves did his best and held his own as the Texans starting cornerback for every game.

Now, Hargreaves is preparing for identical duties likely for the entire season in the wake of starting cornerback Bradley Roby being traded to the Saints in exchange for a 2022 third-round draft pick and a conditional 2023 sixth-round draft pick as well as the Texans paying him a $7 million bonus to account for New Orleans' tight salary-cap situation.

Acquired off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two seasons ago by former Texans coach and general manager Bill O'Brien, the former first-round draft pick from Florida wasn’t fazed much by Roby’s departure.

"I was surprised a little bit, but that’s the business,” Hargreaves said. “I’ve been playing long enough to know that things like that happen. I mean, it was surprising at first, but you got to keep going, continue on. We’ve got a season to play.

“I’m always ready, always staying ready. I’ve been in the league long enough to know that anything can happen and you got to stay ready. It wasn’t no different of a year for me, after the trade, as far as me handling my business.”

Hargreaves will be joined in the starting lineup by Terrance Mitchell, a former Cleveland Browns starter signed to a two-year. $7.5 million contract this offseason.

Neither player is as accomplished as Roby, who has 4.39 speed in the 40-yard dash and has recorded 301 career tackles, 10 interceptions, four sacks, eight forced fumbles, 75 passes defensed and three defensive touchdowns. Roby was suspended for the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars due to a performance-enhancing drug policy violation that cost him five games last season.

“Bradley was a good football player for us,” Texans defensive coordinator Lovie Smith said. “He wasn’t playing this week, so our preparation has been without him. So, how we’re going to approach it is that we have two starting corners in Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves that are going to tee it up, and we’ll go from there.

“Both have played a lot of ball, familiar with both of them. If we have a starting corner, these guys want to tackle. Both guys want to tackle. And they have a skill set that’s kept them in the league for a long period of time. I know they’re anxious. They came here for a reason. Seems like most of the guys on our defense, most of us have something to prove.”

Signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract that includes a $1 million base salary with $300,000 of it guaranteed, a $200,000 signing bonus, $300,000 in total roster bonuses for games active and a $500,000 playtime incentive, Hargreaves gained a lot of experience last season.

The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round draft pick allowed 73 receptions on 107 targets for 907 yards, six touchdowns and an opposing passer rating of 109.1 He recorded 72 tackles, one interception and one tackle for a loss while playing for the NFL's 30th-ranked defense that ranked last in the NFL in interceptions.

Picked on a lot last season on a team that didn’t have much of a pass rush, Hargreaves learned to bounce back quickly from a mistake and move on.

“Mentally just growing up, and just going through stuff that you go through as a player in this league,” Hargreaves said. “It’s kind of hard to explain, but you go through things and you have to be mentally tough or that can run you out of here. Just understanding how the game works, understanding how the business side of this whole football thing works, and understanding that you got to handle your business every day, one day at a time.”

And if a catch, a first down or a touchdown is allowed, a short memory helps to put it behind him. Dwelling on a miscue can compound the error.

“You got to forget about it,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know if there’s a technique or a way to forget about it, but you just got to move on. Guys that play corner, we know they’re going to catch the ball on you. You got to move on, got to forget about it and try to make the next play.”

Of course, if the Texans defensive line manufactures a consistent pass rush and creates a lot of pressure and hits, that makes Hargreaves’ job easier.

“We got a great group, and if they get to the quarterback and I don’t got to cover, shoot, that’s good for me,” he said. “That’s how they make my job easy, get a whole bunch of sacks and fumbles and strip sacks, all that kind of stuff, and make me not have to cover, so we don’t got to worry about it.”

A former college All-American and All-Southeastern Conference selection, Hargreaves has 258 career tackles in the NFL along with three interceptions, one touchdown, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 28 passes defensed.

He feels like playing in Smith’s zone-dominant scheme suits his style of play.

“A lot of zone coverages, a lot of eyes on the QB, read and react type defenses,” Hargreaves said. “ Not so much man-to-man where you’re back is turned and you can’t really see the ball all that much. It gives everybody a chance to break on the ball, react on the quarterback, get to the ball and cause turnovers.

“It showed a little bit in the preseason. I don’t think it’s benefiting just me. It’s a whole defensive thing. It’s going to help everybody. Everybody is going to be able to read and react, play fast and get to the ball.”

On Sunday, the Texans will square off with gifted Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick in the NFL draft.

“He’s a great player, he was picked No. 1 for a reason,” Hargreaves said. “I don’t got to speak too much on him. We’ll see what his first game is like on Sunday. It’s a lot of unknowns. We don’t know what they’re going to do, necessarily. We got some ideas, what they put on tape for the preseason, but we don’t really know yet.

“We’ll figure it out by probably the first quarter, halftime, we’ll know what they want to do and we’ll adjust from there. For now, it’s just getting your body ready, keeping your mental ready, making sure you know what you’re doing on your side of the ball. We’ll go from there on Sunday and we’ll see what they throw at us.”

Although he’s a veteran player, that doesn’t change Hargreaves’ anticipation or emotions heading into a new season as part of a revamped defense and an overhauled roster.

“Nerves, excitement, all of that, it all comes out,” Hargreaves said. “Not so much right now, but on Sunday, oh yeah, we’ll all going to feel it. Everybody in the building is going to feel it. It’s going to be electric.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans

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