TAMPA —- It was this time last season when then-rookie S Cody Grimm was thrown into a starting role after S Tanard Jackson was suspended for a minimum of one year by the NFL for violating the substance-abuse policy.
While Jackson is eligible to be reinstated today, there is no clear timetable for when, and if, that will happen. He had to adhere to conditions for reinstatement and then apply to the league, with the decision when (or if) to grant reinstatement solely up to commissioner Roger Goodell.
A league spokesman said this week that the NFL had no comment on Jackson's situation, and it will only have one when his status changes.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris wouldn't say whether he'd welcome back Jackson, pointing out Wednesday it's a "league matter."
But the Bucs are quick to say they've been pleased with Grimm, whom Morris labeled "Mr. Reliable." Grimm started nine games last year before breaking his leg, and he has "picked up where he left off," defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said.
Lake said Grimm's instincts and toughness stand out. "He's one of the tougher guys I've been around," Lake said. "Ronde Barber is No. 1, and Cody is right there now."
Even Falcons WR Roddy White has taken notice.
"He's always in the right position," White said. "He's a smart, intelligent guy, knows the defense, moves around back there pretty good. He's kind of the guy that puts them together in the back end. … Guys like that you can always count on."
BACK IN BLACK: Quincy Black, the Bucs starting strongside linebacker, did not participate in practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury.
Morris said he's hopeful Black will be ready to go Sunday.
Black, who was not available for comment Wednesday, was pulled from Sunday's game by Morris, leaving the Bucs without one of their defensive captains. Morris acknowledged it wasn't Black's best half, but he blamed his play on the injury and plans to stick by him.
"I'm not turning my back on a guy because he missed tackles," Morris said.
If Black can't go, LB Dekoda Watson could start in his place. Morris also turned to rookie MLB Mason Foster to play the entire second half against the Vikings. Foster had previously left the field when the Bucs changed to nickel packages, a lineup that includes an extra defensive back, and Black moved to middle linebacker.
After Black left Sunday's game, Foster remained in the middle in the nickel package and impressed the coaches with his performance.
TOUGH TASK: One week after facing Vikings DE Jared Allen, Pro Bowl T Donald Penn welcomes another challenge: Falcons four-time Pro Bowl DE John Abraham.
"The story of a left tackle," Penn said.
Abraham, 33, racked up 13 sacks last season. Penn said he has a great respect for Abraham, "one of the few guys in the league I speak very, very highly about."
"At 12 years into the league, he can do some of the things that some of the rookies are coming in and doing," Penn said. "Abraham, if he wants, he'll just run right through you … or right around you. … He's one of those guys that can win the game just by himself."
Penn has held his own against Abraham, holding him without a sack the past two years. And after that, Penn will face Colts six-time Pro Bowl DE Dwight Freeney on Oct. 3.
"These three weeks right here will probably be one of my toughest three weeks in the league," Penn said. "I'm up for the challenge."
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]