TAMPA — Somewhere between the time Dexter Jackson had the second-half kickoff bounce off his facemask, picked it up, got hit and dropped it again, he might have lost more than the football.
Like his job.
The rookie from Appalachian State was replaced on kickoff returns by receiver Michael Clayton in the Bucs' 20-10 win over the Seahawks on Sunday night. But coach Jon Gruden said the team is considering keeping Jackson on the bench.
"We'll talk about that a little bit today," Gruden said Monday. "He's a young player. It's been pointed out the last several weeks. He does have talent, and we're asking an awful lot of the young guy. He makes some critical decisions.
"We'll look at that. … We'll look at what candidates we do have. What competition we can create. And at the end of the day, we'll do what's best for our team.
"But our return game — the fumble to start the third quarter — that can't happen."
Jackson, a second-round pick in April, had 4 yards on his one kickoff return and averaged 1.5 yards on two punt returns against Seattle. Fortunately for the Bucs, his fumble was recovered by Jimmy Wilkerson, but a penalty forced the Bucs to start their first possession of the second half at their 6-yard line.
After the Bucs went three and out, Justin Forsett returned Josh Bidwell's punt to the Bucs 25. But the Seahawks settled for a field goal.
"We're not making enough yardage in the return game," Gruden said Monday. "I've got to take a look at that. I know (special teams coach) Rich (Bisaccia) puts a lot of time in. I'm going to be supportive and remain confident, but we need to get more done there."
In Jackson's defense, he never really returned kickoffs at Appalachian State. He ranks 35th in the NFL with 14 returns for 327 yards (23.4 average), including a long of 45 yards.
Jackson's numbers returning punts are worse. He ranks 52nd in the league with 20 returns for 97 yards, a 4.9 average. His longest has been 19 yards.
And the Bucs struggled to cover kicks against the Seahawks. Josh Wilson returned a kickoff 61 yards to the Bucs 33 with 3:01 remaining in the first half. Wilson struck again in the fourth quarter, returning a kickoff 46 yards to midfield. He averaged 36.5 yards per return on four tries Sunday.
"I'm disappointed in it," Gruden said. "Our kickoff coverage, uncharacteristically, our punt coverage wasn't as good as it needs to be, either. We missed some tackles. There are three or four guys that can play better for us. Again, the injuries to our fullbacks, to our receiving corps, hurt us. That's a process that hurts special teams, too."
Among the list of candidates Gruden might choose from to replace Jackson include Micheal Spurlock, who last season became the first Buc to return a kickoff for a touchdown in a regular-season game. The Bucs would have to create a roster spot to sign him from the practice squad.
Spurlock also would help the Bucs at receiver, where Ike Hilliard, Maurice Stovall and Joey Galloway could be questionable for Sunday's game at Dallas. Spurlock says it hasn't been difficult to be patient despite Jackson's bloopers.
"Not really, because I've been through it before," Spurlock said. "If you had asked me this my rookie year, yeah, there would've been some frustration. But it's not really about you, it's a team sport and it's how do you fit in their puzzle? Right now, by me working hard and getting better until I do fit in the puzzle and when you get your shot, you just take advantage of it."
In fact, considering the attention that goes with being a second-round pick, Spurlock says it's easy to feel empathy for Jackson.
"It is, because of one, he's a fellow receiver and a fellow teammate," Spurlock said. "Not anything against media, but the media puts so much pressure on it. Now, it falls down from the coaches, the players — everybody. It makes you feel bad for the guy because he has to read this. I just feel bad in that aspect. One day you can be the hero and the next day you can be the goat."