TAMPA — He wore the same No. 36 and stood in front of the same locker. But the Bucs hope much has changed in the life of Tanard Jackson.
The Tampa Bay safety returned Wednesday from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Defensive backs are taught to have a short memory. But Jackson says he will never forget the pain he felt watching his team play without him. To make matters worse, the secondary yielded six pass plays of more than 40 yards, five for touchdowns, while losing all four games.
"Seeing these guys who I went to training camp and preseason with and the guys I've played with the past few years,'' Jackson said, ''seeing those guys and me being on the couch watching them. That was the low point. Every Sunday."
The Bucs have a one-week roster exemption for Jackson should they choose to use it and can activate him as late as Saturday. "We'll see what kind of shape he's in. It's good to see him back, though," coach Raheem Morris said. "He served his sentence from the league. I'm sure it was hard on him watching his team lose football games. He apologized before he left."
But defensive coordinator Jim Bates said Jackson had an interception in practice and will play against the Eagles.
Tampa Bay is ranked 31st in total defense. But that's not Jackson's biggest concern since his suspension Aug. 18. One more strike and he could be suspended from the league indefinitely.
"Being a starter on this defense, not only that, coming back and being looked upon as a leader on the defense with experience, so I definitely felt I let my team down," Jackson said.
"That's the thing I'm disappointed in myself the most. I disappointed myself, but your actions affect others around you, and that's the thing that hit home with me … just being away for those four weeks and having the time to reflect on the things I've done and how I hurt myself, how I hurt the people around me such as my teammates, coaches, people who had trust in me."
Jackson said he split time between Tampa and Syracuse, his alma mater, working out on his own. He would not detail the reason for his suspension.
"I really don't want to get into that," Jackson said. "I addressed it publicly. I apologized to everyone I needed to apologize to, and now I want to move on."
How much did the Bucs miss Jackson?
"You watch (Bob) Sanders from Indianapolis and when he's missing, you're talking (giving up) big-time yardage,'' Bates said. ''I'm not putting Tanard in that situation or category yet, but he is a big-play-ability guy. … When you lose guys who are good open-field tacklers, smart on the leverage angles and they have range, they're very valuable to your system. And Tanard has the ability to be very valuable to us."
Morris, who picked Jackson up from the airport this week, said only time will tell whether Jackson, 24, has learned his lesson.
"It's going to be tested throughout time, I guess," Morris said. "The time away has to be what drives him. The time away might have been the best thing for him. The time away you've seen watching your team lose. How much did that affect him? How much that affects his guys when he comes back. That's all important to him, I know that. And he loves football. So you've got to learn to love football more than you love anything else."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.