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Romano: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense will pay for safety Tanard Jackson's mistake

TAMPA — For Tanard Jackson, the party apparently went too far.

And now he has threatened to ruin the good times for everyone else.

Tuesday's revelation that Jackson has been suspended for four games for substance abuse violations does not fall under the catastrophic umbrella policy, but it could certainly put a crimp in the Bucs' plans this fall.

Jackson was supposed to be one of the few guys you didn't have to worry about. The outside linebackers? They were new. The strong safety? He's pretty new too. The left defensive end is a starter for the first time, and so is one of the defensive tackles and a corner.

Jackson was a familiar face on a team playing extreme makeover. He was one of the best rookies in the league in 2007, and his numbers were even better in '08. He hit hard, and rarely got caught out of position.

And now the dependable one has let his teammates down.

This is not meant to condemn Jackson. The suspension and embarrassment have got to be painful enough. And, for a young man, he did a good job Tuesday of owning up to his mistakes and acknowledging he needs to make changes in his life.

Too many players act as if confidentiality clauses mean they can dodge the truth. They suggest there is innocence in the unknown, and they treat responsibility as if it can be shifted on a whim. Jackson did none of that when he apologized to his teammates and addressed reporters after practice.

Still, Jackson's contrition does not lessen the impact of his banishment on everyone else. It puts new defensive coordinator Jim Bates in a bind. It means Jermaine Phillips' carefully orchestrated switch to linebacker may be in peril. It increases the pressure on Sabby Piscitelli at strong safety. And it casts another shadow on Raheem Morris' feel-good training camp.

Somewhere, a Chucky doll is grinning.

For Morris, the education of a head coach continues at a dizzying speed. From cutting a franchise icon in February, to a helmet-swinging fight among players in the spring, to the mysterious loss of Arron Sears in the summer to the more recent injuries to Josh Bidwell and Antonio Bryant, the new Bucs coach has had an interesting collection of plot lines before hearing his first national anthem.

Up to this point, Morris has handled it all well. He has been firm when necessary, and upbeat all other times. He has avoided excuses, and his demeanor seems to have rubbed off on the players as well.

But, sooner or later, he has to pull it off on the field. And Jackson's indiscretion will not make it any easier.

My guess is the Bucs will say they want the best 11 players on the field on defense, and that may mean temporarily interrupting the conversion of Phillips from safety to linebacker. Morris alluded to the possibility of Phillips taking some snaps at safety even before Jackson's suspension was announced on Tuesday.

"When we are in a game and I have a 53-man roster and I have 45 guys with helmets on, and I have (Phillips) up there playing linebacker, am I going to put my fourth safety in, or am I going to put (Phillips) in?" Morris said. "Those are decisions I have to make."

The choice could come down to whether the Bucs are more comfortable with Will Allen replacing Jackson at safety or whether they prefer Adam Hayward or Geno Hayes at linebacker. Phillips could end up being the swing man, playing some of the time at linebacker and some of the time at safety.

"I think they'll be looking at me in both places. Just to make sure, if they need me to play safety, that I can come in and do it," Phillips said. "But I'm going to keep working at linebacker because that's where I need most of my reps.

"Playing safety is sort of like riding a bike. I need to get back there to get some details with the new scheme but it's still a position I know. It's still running around, hustling and playing ball."

Except, of course, it's not that easy.

This is a defense already under suspicion. It has gone from a unit with a bunch of first-round draft picks and potential Hall of Famers to one with a lot of unproven talents and castoffs. The pace of training camp was promising, and the performance in the first preseason game was intriguing. You began the week wondering if maybe the possibility of good times was not so farfetched.

And then, just like that, one player's indulgence has you wondering about a hangover.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com

Romano: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense will pay for safety Tanard Jackson's mistake 08/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 9:47am]

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