There are a great many things that can wreck a defense. A great quarterback. A fast wide receiver. A dominating running back.
Likewise, there are a great many things that can stop momentum in its tracks. Injuries. Bad luck. Superior opponents.
Two weeks into the season, and the greatest threat the Bucs defense has faced has come from within. Tanard Jackson has tested positive. Again. He has let down his teammates. Again. He has betrayed his fans. Again.
For the third time in his career, Jackson has been caught with drugs in his urine and rocks in his head. He has taken his bad habits and twisted them around his bad judgment, and he has taken his self-destructive nature and pointed it at his own huddle. Jackson will be gone for a year, but his teammates also have to pay part of the price.
Dammit, Tanard, what were you thinking?
Better question: Why weren't you thinking?
Today, you cannot help but be disappointed, exasperated and angry at Jackson. He is paid to make the Bucs defense better, and he has made it worse by his departure. He is paid to increase the odds of winning, not to lessen them.
For now, we do not know exactly what it is that Jackson took, and we do not know exactly where he relapsed, and we do not know exactly when he tested positive. The speculation is that it was marijuana, but the NFL doesn't release those kinds of details.
Really, it doesn't matter. The Bucs have lost one of the key pieces to their defense because he cannot control himself. The team is a degree less imposing today because a starting safety, at the very least, seems to think he's on the Willie Nelson tour bus. Swell.
If any player should have known better, it is Jackson. This was not Jackson's first dirty test result, remember? He has been here before.
It was a barely more than a year ago that Jackson was suspended for the first four games of the Bucs 2009 season. After he came back, four losses later, Jackson talked about how disappointed he was in himself, about how he wanted to apologize to the fans, how he swore he was going to address his "off-the-field issues."
Evidently, Jackson didn't mean a word of it.
So what happens now?
Besides a choice between Sabby Piscitelli and Cody Grimm, that is. Should the Bucs immediately wash their hands of Jackson? Should they roll their eyes and hope for the best with a talented 25-year-old?
No one would blame the Bucs for releasing Jackson immediately. After all, they have talked repeatedly about trying to make this team one the community will fall in love with again. My guess, however, is they will keep him. He's a talented guy, and almost everyone seems to like him. Besides, they have a year before they have to do anything at all.
In the meantime, you would hope they would spend the first three months of the year-long suspension yelling very loudly into Jackson's face. This is stupid, and if he doesn't control himself, he might see his career float away in a cloud of smoke.
After that, maybe the Bucs can get him into counseling. And in the meantime, maybe they ought to spend a high draft pick on a safety.
Fans being fans, they will forgive a lot from the players they admire. A missed tackle. A blown coverage. A bad game. But this is more difficult. This is a player who keeps making the same mistakes.
Here's what I want to know: At the very instance Jackson gave into temptation, what was going on in his head? Did he think he wouldn't get caught? Did he care? After two positives, did he think he was too slick for a third? Did he think, even for an instance, about his team or his locker room or the season at hand?
Look, I'm not trying to be a moralist here. A lot of rock stars, a lot of actors, even a few presidents, have smoked marijuana. There are times I've felt the only two guys in the world who hadn't smoked pot are you and me, and I'm not so sure about you.
But an NFL safety makes his living with his judgment. Is this a run? Is this a play-action? Where is the ball going?
For Jackson, it is the lack of judgment, and of control, that is the troubling issue here. At the very least, Jackson had to realize he was taking an unacceptable risk to use drugs again. At the very least, his priorities were out of order. He traded in the rest of the year for a buzz.
And now, he is gone for a year.
With any luck, you will not miss him at all.