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Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Tanard Jackson hopes he's ready for return to NFL

TAMPA — For 56 weeks while living in forced exile from pro football, having again gone from hero to heel with another career-suicide attempt, Tanard Jackson wasn't always sure he wanted to do the time.

On Aug. 18, 2009, the NFL suspended the safety for the first four games of the upcoming season for his second positive test for marijuana.

But that was a relative slap on the wrist.

On Sept. 22, 2010, the league suspended him indefinitely. He couldn't apply for reinstatement for one year, and nobody was throwing him a life rope.

"There were a lot of emotions," Jackson, 26, said. "A lot of frustration, anger, guilt. But I dealt with it the best way I could with the support of family, friends and things like that.

"The doubts definitely came in mind; especially being out of football that long and knowing I was fighting an uphill battle. But it's worth it. It's worth it. That's the best way I can put it."

One day last week, Jackson leaned on a chair in front of his locker, in no hurry to peel away the Spandex undershirt with the Buccaneers logo that was wet with sweat and stuck to his body.

Jackson says he didn't go through months of living in a league-mandated drug rehabilitation center — with no way to stay in shape except pumping iron — to satisfy fawning fans.

The fame and fortune? Well, that had, literally, gone up in smoke as well.

What fueled Jackson was a chance to revisit ground zero, the opportunity to press restart. This time, Jackson isn't concerned about the future. Everything he missed he recaptured by simply walking back through the doors at One Buc Place.

"It's being right here in this locker room," said Jackson, who was reinstated by the NFL on Tuesday. "Putting on a helmet with a Buccaneers logo on the side. Putting on cleats. Putting on shoulder pads. Meeting rooms. Just being in this building."

Jackson's return to the playing field begins this afternoon against the Saints. For the Bucs, the timing couldn't be better.

The defense is battered and bruised.

Tackle Gerald McCoy is out for several weeks with a high sprain of his left ankle. Safety Cody Grimm suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster limped around all last week with a sprained ankle, and linebacker Quincy Black has missed two of the past three games with a similar injury. They are questionable and probable, respectively.

"You can't ever account for what he is as a football player," cornerback Ronde Barber said of Jackson. "You can't coach what he does. He instantly makes us better. That's nothing against the guys that are here. There's a reason he started as a rookie and a reason why he'll seamlessly fall into place this year.

"You can never have too many good bodies back there. So having a good one come back at this time is pretty ideal for us because we thought it might be a lot later."

Jackson, who has started every game for which he has been eligible since being a fourth-round pick out of Syracuse in 2007, has added more muscle to his 190-pound physique.

"Mainly lifting," said Jackson, who could start today depending on the personnel with which the Bucs open. "I didn't have the ability to do a lot of running and agility work."

Two years ago, Jackson's impact was immediate. In his first three games, he recorded 17 tackles, a forced fumble, two interceptions and a touchdown.

"That was before, but this is completely different," said Jackson, who has eight interceptions and five forced fumbles for his career. "I went to training camp with the team. This was 56 weeks, and being back, this is the first time putting on shoulder pads and a helmet."

Barber says from the time he took the practice field Wednesday, Jackson's movements have been fluid, natural, almost as if he were gliding on casters.

"He's just out there, and it's like, 'Well, T-Jack's back,' " Barber said. "It's more of a casual thing for him."

Jackson knows he will have his detractors. But his behavior has been so self-destructive, the battle remains largely internal.

"I'm in control of my actions now and what goes on from here," Jackson said. "I'm not in control of what people think about me.

"I think the hard part is the accountability part; letting a lot of people down: teammates, management and the fans, the die-hard fans of the Buccaneers organization. That's a struggle. But I got another chance, another opportunity to change."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Tanard Jackson hopes he's ready for return to NFL 10/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 15, 2011 7:38pm]
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