TAMPA — In the 10 starts Eric Wright has made at cornerback this season, the Bucs went 6-4 and were in playoff contention.
Then he missed the Nov. 25 game against Atlanta, a 24-23 home loss, with an Achilles injury. The next day he began serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. (Wright says it was for using Adderall, a stimulant.)
Wright returned to practice Wednesday healthy and rested, but the team he left is in a different spot. The Bucs, with the league's worst pass defense, have lost five straight and will miss the postseason for the fifth consecutive season.
"Absolutely, I apologize to the team as well as the organization and the Glazer family," said Wright, who signed a five-year deal worth $37.5 million ($15.5 million of which is guaranteed) in March. "It hurt me a lot to let the team down. It's just an unfortunate situation, and I'm looking forward to moving forward from here.
"It was extremely difficult. I mean, being at home, being away from my teammates and my coaches. You work all offseason and all preseason to get to this point, and to have to sit down and sit out for four games really hurt."
Wright's suspension was not without significant personal cost. He forfeited about $1.8 million in salary, the equivalent of four game checks. Perhaps more damaging is a clause in his contract that allows $7.5 million in guaranteed salary for 2013 to be voided.
Whether Wright plays in Sunday's finale against the Falcons depends on his conditioning and performance in practice. But coach Greg Schiano sounded even less certain about whether Wright can be depended upon for next season.
"How do you know?" Schiano said when asked if Wright's off-field issues are behind him. "I didn't know it was coming. So how am I going to know it will happen again or won't happen again? I don't. We've talked, and I feel good about what we've talked about. And that's all you really can do. Even before the fact, (you have to) educate and continue to educate the team because I'm not convinced that all these guys that have been positive Adderall tests were using Adderall. Obviously, it did because they tested positive. But I'm not sure there's an issue with all of them.
"But that doesn't matter. The rule is the rule. We have to make sure that we as an organization just keep educating our players."
Wright was the second Bucs cornerback suspended this season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Aqib Talib, since traded to the Patriots, also credited his four-game suspension levied in October to taking Adderall.
Wright said he used Adderall for a health problem during the offseason. The drug, typically used to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, is allowed by the NFL with a prescription. Wright said an "exemption letter" for permission to use the drug was never sent to the league. He would not say if he now has a prescription for Adderall or if he still plans to take it.
"The situation is over. I served my four-game suspension, and I'm happy to be back on the team and having and opportunity to play in this game," Wright said.
"I feel a lot better. I've still got to go out there and finish the week of practice, and I'm just looking forward to getting better every day and seeing how it goes on Sunday."
Is Wright confident he will be with the Bucs next season?
"Until somebody tells me otherwise, I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneer," he said. "I say that with a lot of pride. It's an honor to put on that jersey, and I'm just going to continue to work with that mind-set."
Rick Stroud can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.