TAMPA — Bucs rookie safety Cody Grimm received a phone call Wednesday evening from an assistant coach informing him that starter Tanard Jackson had been suspended for the rest of the season.
Just that fast, Grimm lost a great example of what a top-flight NFL free safety looks like.
"I've picked up on a few things (from Jackson), but it's hard to learn a lot from a guy like that just because his instincts are so good," Grimm said. "That's something that comes with time, and some people are blessed with it. I might find out whether I am or not."
So will everyone else. All eyes will be on Grimm, 23, when he makes his starting debut against the Steelers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in place of Jackson.
The baby-faced seventh-round pick from Virginia Tech takes over after Jackson received an indefinite ban from the NFL for his latest violation of its substance-abuse policy, pressing Grimm into action long before anyone could have anticipated.
Coach Raheem Morris decided to go with Grimm despite the availability of Sabby Piscitelli, last year's 16-game starter at strong safety who is capable of playing free safety. But his struggles in 2009 resulted in free agent Sean Jones taking his job.
Regarding Grimm, son of Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm, Morris said, "He's gone out there and excelled and played well and been impressive in all his opportunities. He's been a guy who's been cool, calm and collected. I can go on and on about all the things that prompted me to go with Cody and have the confidence to put him out there.
"There was definitely thought about Sabby. Sabby's played over there a little bit. He's the backup strong safety, and he definitely would have went in if anything would have happened to (Jones). … He'll still be a significant part."
Piscitelli, who previously has spoken critically of the team's decision to start Jones over him, declined comment Thursday.
Grimm's ability to be steady-handed in pressure situations, particularly for a rookie, had long caught coaches' eyes. Midway through training camp, he already had bypassed more experienced players in rising to second on the depth chart at free safety.
Morris said he has been so impressed that the decision wasn't hard.
"You watch the kid go out there and perform and then you put him in different situations that you didn't see him in college, and he performs the way he has so far," Morris said. "He's been a student of the game. The limited amount of errors that he has made as a rookie, it gives you a great feel about him. I want to see him go out and play."
Morris, however, won't have a chance to see Jackson play any time soon. The coach said Thursday that he managed to have a brief chat with Jackson before he left team headquarters on Wednesday, and the chat likely was emotional. Morris coached defensive backs when Jackson was drafted in 2007 and has always had a special place for him.
"Personally, it's tough (on me)," Morris said. "Everybody in this room knows that.
"We talked about what's his plan and what are his ideas. And you give him some thoughts that you may have for him and try to just help him out before he goes. And then he was gone."
And now the Bucs have some big shoes to fill.
Jackson has started each of the 46 games he has been eligible for since being drafted out of Syracuse in the fourth round in 2007, including a team-record 32 to start his career. In 2007 he was the first Tampa Bay rookie to start on opening day in 11 seasons.
"He's just a unique guy with his ability to be pretty versatile back there and play different positions," middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "He just has a pretty natural feel for the game. He's a good football player; a very good player."
Can Grimm fill the void? He believes so.
"We have to move on," he said. "So I just came to work (Thursday) ready to work extra hard. When my number is called, I'll be ready."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.