The Buccaneers’ 31st-ranked defense welcomed back starting free safety Tanard Jackson this week from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Bucs have a one-week roster exemption to determine Jackson’s physical conditioning, and although Jackson has not been officially activated to the 53-man roster yet, that is supposed to happen later this week and he is expected to suit up at Philadelphia on Sunday.
“I learned a lot [during the suspension], but the main thing is that this is what I love to do. This is what I’m blessed to do with God-given ability,” Jackson said, when asked what he learned from his suspension. “This is where I need to be. I missed everything besides the games, too. I missed being around the guys, being in the locker room and being able to come to work.”
â€¨Tampa Bay announced Jackson’s suspension on August 18 and he was placed on the reserved-suspended list on September 5 after participating in the preseason, which is allowed under NFL rules. The Bucs’ fourth-round pick in 2007 led the team in tackles during the preseason with 17 stops (12 solo), and one tackle for loss.
â€¨Jackson, a third-year pro, has started since the first game of his rookie season and has totaled 180 tackles, three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and one sack in his Tampa Bay career. Jackson recorded 102 tackles last year, which was a career high.
Since his suspension, the Bucs have gone 0-4 with Jackson resigned to watch the games on television, which was incredibly hard on the team’s starting free safety.
“It was difficult, especially me knowing that I could have contributed,” Jackson said. “But I’m not going to say if I was here we would have won all four. It was difficult and there’s a lot of work to do. I’m glad I’m here and we’re going to be in this together.
“I’d like to think I could’ve made a difference. It happens. I think we pride ourselves on not giving up big plays, but I think we’ve given up a little more than we wanted to these first four games. All we can do is come in day-in-and-day-out, week-in-and-week-out, and get better.”
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said Wednesday that he isn't sure how much Jackson would play vs. the Eagles or if he would simply be the backup in the team’s three-safety rotation behind Sabby Piscitelli and Will Allen on SUnday
“We’ll go through this week and see where he is at the end of the week since we don’t have to make a decision until then in terms of how much we play him,” said Morris. .
In his first practice back with the team, Jackson impressed, notching an interception Wednesday. Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates went as far as saying, "Oh yeah, Tanard will play Sunday."
Allen is excited to have Jackson back and expects him to work into the rotation this week.
“I’m not sure what the rotation will be,” said Allen. “Whatever the coaches decide. That’s what it is going to be, and that is what we have to live with. We understand that Tanard is a great talent. He needs to play. He needs to be on the field.
“I think Tanard is going to bring a lot of energy. I think he’ll bring a lot of playmaking ability like he has shown in the past. I think being suspended for four weeks, but he’s going to come back with a chip on his shoulder and play with an edge. We’re going to need that going into Philly because it is a rough environment. It is great to have him back.”
Jackson spent the last four weeks at home and also back at his alma mater, Syracuse University, where he spent some time around his old college team although he worked out on his own. Jackson did not work out at One Buccaneer Place as uspended players are not allowed at the team facilities.
“I just spent my time working out and trying to get ready,” Jackson said. “I was staying busy, working out and got accustomed to the playbook, watching the games and getting some film lessons. Just trying to get back.
“It was difficult, but I knew the situation before hand. As time passed, it got a little easier because I stayed in touch with the guys. We talked and it wasn’t too hard [to stay in tune with what was happening]. It wasn’t easy being away from the locker room and being able to watch film with the guys.”
Morris picked him up from the airport on Monday night and the head coach wanted to make sure that Jackson wouldn’t let down the team again.â€¨
“We had a long talk where we discussed some things and he’s happy to have me back,” Jackson said. “Just being away on those four weeks and having time to reflect how I’ve hurt myself and how I’ve hurt the people around me, such as my teammates, coaches and people who trusted me – I’m disappointed in that.”
Jackson did not address what it was that actually got him suspended for four games with the media, but he did apologize before the entire team on Wednesday morning for let his team down.
“Not only being a starter, but coming into this season being looked at as a leader on this defense with experience,” Jackson said. “That’s the thing I’m disappointed myself with the most.”
Jackson will get a chance to make some big plays to help Tampa Bay’s 31st-ranked defense at Philadelphia when the Buccaneers face Donovan McNabb, DeSean Jackson and the Eagles’ prolific offense, which is ranked seventh in the NFL.
“It’s going to be a test for us,” Jackson said. “I think it’s going to have them in my first game back. I think it’s good for our team. Donovan is a great quarterback and I think it will be a great test for our team.”
Eagles coach Andy Reid said that Tampa Bay’s defense should be improved with Jackson’s possible return to the defensive lineup on Sunday at Philadelphia.
“I have a lot of respect for Tanard Jackson,” Reid said. “Tanard is one of the top safeties in the league. He brings a lot to that group.”
Jackson can’t wait to step on the field and make up for lost time against Philadelphia.
“It will be a lot of fun for me and my teammates,” Jackson said. “Every Sunday watching the games was a low point for me.
“I’m ready. I’m ready for as many snaps as they put me out there for, but that’s out of my control as far as I get on the field.”