TAMPA — Safety Tanard Jackson has certainly been making up for lost time.
Jackson, suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, has been one of the Bucs' biggest playmakers since he has returned. The third-year pro has created a turnover in each of the past four games, racking up a career-high three interceptions along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Jackson said being away from football helped change his preparation habits, and he credits the new system under defensive coordinator Jim Bates, which has allowed him more freedom to make plays on the ball. Jackson, who played cornerback at Syracuse, has also been a nickel back.
"We're free a lot of times in the back end of this matchup defense, which allows us to make plays on the ball, it allows us to read the quarterback's eyes," Jackson said.
Perhaps that's why Jackson said he's looking forward to playing Sunday the Saints and Drew Brees, the league's fourth-ranked quarterback in passing yards.
"I told Ronde (Barber) earlier this week I love playing this team," Jackson said. "As good as they are this year, they're on a roll, an unbeaten team, and we're having a down year, but I love playing this team. You get to make plays on some balls. You know they're going to throw 45, 50 times a game. It's a challenge for us, definitely. But I think we're up for it."
FAMILIAR FACE: Asked about the Saints and an impending matchup with a former college teammate, Bucs TE Kellen Winslow had a little message for New Orleans LB Jon Vilma.
The two played together at the University of Miami. Winslow was asked how their practice matchups typically ended.
"You can ask Vilma," Winslow said, smiling. "Vilma couldn't guard me. D.J. (Williams) couldn't guard me. Sean Taylor couldn't guard me — respect (Taylor was killed two years ago during a robbery at his home). None of those guys could guard me. And they'll tell you the same thing. Vilma probably won't. But I owned those guys."
Winslow said the friendly trash talk is "all in fun."
SEEING RED: A bright spot in the Bucs' season has been red zone efficiency. The Bucs have scored touchdowns a league-best 70.6 percent of the time (12-of-17) they've been inside the 20-yard line. But the second-ranked team, the Cardinals, have had twice as many possessions (34) in the red zone.
"We've just got to get down there more so we can have more opportunities," coach Raheem Morris said. "Once you get down there, you start to have that confidence, you start to grow in the fourth quarter like we have the last two weeks, your numbers are going to start to grow along with your whole offensive numbers.
INJURY UPDATE: WR Antonio Bryant (knee) returned to full participation in practice, another sign he might be able to play Sunday. Morris said Bryant will likely be a game-time decision. CB Aqib Talib, Winslow and RB Cadillac Williams also returned to full participation. QB Byron Leftwich (right elbow) was the only player limited.
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.