The Buccaneers placed their second safety on injured reserve this week when rookie Devin Holland joined Cody Grimm on the I.R. list. But reinforcements are on their way in Tampa Bay with the return of fourth-year free safety Tanard Jackson, who served a 19-game suspension after failing his third league-conducted drug test since entering the league in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Jackson, who has battled marijuana use over the years, had been the starter for the Bucs at free safety since his first game as a rookie. In the 12 games he played in during the 2009 season prior to his suspension, Jackson recorded 85 tackles, a career-high five interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery and scored two defensive touchdowns. In the two games he played in during the 2010 campaign, Jackson recorded 13 tackles with two tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery. In his Tampa Bay career, Jackson has 278 tackles, 29 passes defensed, eight interceptions, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, two defensive touchdowns and one sack.
Due to his reinstatement this week, Jackson will not count against the Buccaneers' 53-man roster until the team decides to activate him from the exempt/commission's permission list. At that time, the Bucs will have to cut a player to make room on the active roster. Tampa Bay has up to two weeks to evaluate Jackson's physical condition to decide whether to put him on the active roster or not.
Fourth-year veteran Corey Lynch has been filling in as the starting free safety in the absence of Grimm, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Tampa Bay's 16-13 win over Atlanta in Week 3.
Jackson, who has avoided talking to the media during his suspension, was last seen at Tampa Bay's unofficial mini-camp in Brandenton, Fla. in late June working out with his teammates.
“I’ve just been trying to stay in shape and doing what I can do,” Jackson said after working out with his fellow Buccaneers at the IMG Academy. “There’s not much I can do during this lockout with me being in the situation I was in. I’m just happy to be out here with some of my teammates and hopefully I can get into the season and be back and be a part of this team.”
Jackson's suspension began on September 22, 2010, and he was eligible to apply for reinstatement 60 days prior to that date this year. Jackson was suspended for the first four games of the 2009 season for violating the league's policy on substance abuse for the second time.
Due to Jackson being suspension, he did not incur a year of service time and he is still considered a fourth-year player in the NFL. Jackson is now in the final year of a four-year contract, and he will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2011 season.
The Bucs have not commented publicly about Jackson since general manager Mark Dominik released this official statement last September.
“Tanard is a talented young man whom we hope is able to use this year to put his troubles behind him and ultimately return a strong man and player,” said Dominik. “It’s up to Tanard whether the team and our fans eventually realize his considerable promise.”
At the team's unofficial mini-camp in June, Jackson told reporters he had mostly been out of contact with his Tampa Bay teammates during his suspension.
“Because of the rules and stipulations during my suspension when the league was in effect, and with the stuff that was going on afterwards I didn’t really communicate with a lot of players,” Jackson said. “This is my first time communicating and talking with a lot of the players since September of last year.”
Jackson was asked in June if he had returned to Syracuse University to train and stay in shape, but said that he chose to stay in Florida.
“No, I’ve actually been home alone,” Jackson said. “[Football] is a major part of my life and this is a great feeling to be back out here with the team. That’s the most important thing for me right now – to get back out there.”