Buccaneers defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake liked what he saw of free safety Tanard Jackson, who was reinstated on Tuesday after a 19-game suspension by the NFL for failing drug tests, during practice on Wednesday, and did not rule out playing him against New Orleans on Sunday. In order for that to happen, the Bucs would have to make a roster move and activate Jackson from the exempt/commissioner's permission list to the 53-man roster. Lake said it would be a game-time decision.
"He looked great,” Lake said of Jackson, who practiced for the first time in 56 weeks on Wednesday. "He looked like he has been working out. He is in great shape and looks like he actually has a little more muscle on him than he had last time I saw him. He looks ready to go.
"There is definitely a chance (he could play). We had a really good meeting last night. He was spitting out some of the coaching points. He was finishing my sentences, which is a good sign. Then this morning we had another good meeting. We will see how the week goes as he progresses and how he looks on tape in practice and then we will make that decision before game time."
Jackson, who has been the team's starting free safety since his rookie season in 2007, has amassed 278 tackles, 29 passes defensed, eight interceptions, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, two defensive touchdowns and one sack in his career. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2009 season after failing his second drug test, but returned to have a career season with 85 tackles, a career-high five interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns over the remaining 12 games.
"He's a playmaker," Lake said. "You bring a playmaker onto the team. It's just another individual who can make a big play for us on Sunday. So it is a big deal. We are all happy for him. Extremely happy. I’m really happy for him. He has gone through a lot. He has served his time. It is great to see him out here just running around and having football again.
"He had a good day today. We put our defense in in increments as the week goes on. He is doing a good job right now recalling what we have done in the past and some of the new wrinkles we have put in. As the week progresses, I'm sure this coaching staff will know by Saturday and I'm sure you all will know on Sunday."
The Bucs have already had to put two safeties on injured reserve, including Cody Grimm, who has been starting at free safety in Jackson's absence, and having the player known as "T-Jack" back is welcome news heading into a big game against a division rival that likes to throw the ball as much as New Orleans does.
"It is a real big shot in the arm," Lake said. "First just look at our just room to begin with. We lost Devin Holland for the season. We already lost Cody Grimm for the season. At least we have a safety coming in to help out and its just not getting somebody off of somebody’s practice squad. It's actually our safety that we think is a really good player. And also for the defense like we said, we lost some defensive tackles, linebackers. Just have a healthy player come in that is a talented player is a big shot in the arm."
Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris didn't shy away from the notion that Jackson could be activated by Sunday.
"Well, you have to get through the week," Morris said when asked about Jackson's availability. "He has done a god job of getting his body back ready to practice and play. That is a decision that will be up to myself, and my guys and (general manager) Mark Dominik. We will make that decision at the end of the week, but he is out there practicing with us and certainly ready to go as far as the mental standpoint. We will just have to figure it out and see when we are going to put him out there into the fire."
Morris agreed with Lake's assessment that Jackson performed well in practice on Wednesday.
"He looked good, he looked great," Morris said. "He came back and looked healthy and ran around well. Obviously, we want to see him on tape. We have good coaches. He has the ability to retain a lot of information and come back. We are fired up to have him back. Getting him back is like getting a younger brother back for me."
New Orleans head coach and offensive coordinator Sean Payton thinks very highly of Jackson, who could be playing against the Saints on Sunday.
"I think he's a tremendous player," Payton said. "I think he's smart on the field. He's got very good instincts. He's physical and he's someone we feel like is – and this is a division opponent's opinion – a very highly graded player. He was very productive in college and he carried that transition into our game. There are some things from a football standpoint that come easy to him that he understands and grasps, whether it's coverages, angles, fits – those are things that he is very good at."
– Mark Cook and Eric Horchy contributed to this report