TAMPA — The Bucs decided to blow on the dice and take another roll with safety Tanard Jackson, who is back in the NFL after being suspended for more than a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
There are several reasons they believe Jackson — who has violated the league's drug guidelines at least three times and been suspended twice — may be worth another gamble.
Jackson, 26, attempting to salvage a spotty career, recently completed a stint at an undisclosed rehabilitation center as a requirement for reinstatement to the league, which was announced Tuesday. Just as significant is the timing. Starting safety Cody Grimm suffered a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago, and the Bucs play division rival New Orleans twice in the next three games.
Jackson will begin practicing today. The Bucs have up to two weeks to decide whether to activate him to their 53-man roster.
"I'll leave that up to coach (Raheem) Morris and what (Jackson) does on the practice field … over the next, basically, two weeks to see what he can do," general manager Mark Dominik said. "And the moment we feel like he's able to help this football team, he'll be on the field helping us prepare and win games."
Though being reinstated after 56 weeks is no small victory for Jackson, he still has to win over teammates and coaches.
"It's not going to be overnight," he said. "It's not going to be something done in a year. It's going to be always a matter of being accountable to those who supported me through this."
Jackson, who has eight interceptions in 46 career games, became eligible for reinstatement Sept. 22. The lockout played a role in delaying the process, he said.
The Bucs learned Jackson could return Tuesday morning, and the transaction was official at 4 p.m. Two hours later, looking fit and wearing a Bucs hat and a red, long-sleeved T-shirt, Jackson answered a few questions at a news conference at One Bucs Place.
"Good to be back," he said. "Fifty-six weeks. Wow. I'm anxious, very excited and just willing to do whatever it is at this point to help this team."
Jackson was suspended for the first four games of 2009 for a second violation of the substance abuse policy. After playing two games in 2010, he was suspended indefinitely by commissioner Roger Goodell for another violation.
Jackson, who was not permitted to have any contact with coaches or teammates during most of his suspension, said the isolation was difficult. Because of the lockout, Jackson was able to attend a minicamp organized by quarterback Josh Freeman in Bradenton in June. He said that helped show him how much he missed the game.
"You build a lot of relationships, from your teammates on up," Jackson said. "Being away from those guys and not being able to be in contact with them was difficult."
Dominik said Jackson has earned some trust by completing the rehabilitation program.
"'My level of trust is actually very high." Dominik said. "I had a chance to obviously be around Tanard since we drafted him as an organization back in 2007. … Knowing what he's gone through, now that I've been up to date, as well, of what he's done to get himself to this point, speaks volumes of how important it is for him both personally and professionally."
How soon he is in the lineup depends on how Morris believes he performs over the next four days.
"It's going to be an opportunity to go out there and show that muscle memory hasn't been lost," Dominik said, "and show what he can do to help this football team has to be significant enough for us to want to activate him."