TAMPA — The Bucs on Tuesday began planning to fill the considerable void that will be left by the absence of starting free safety Tanard Jackson after he was suspended by the NFL for four games.
Jackson will miss the first four games of the regular season without pay after an unspecified violation of the league's substances of abuse policy, leaving the Bucs without a two-year starter and one of the defense's most feared hitters. The penalty will cost Jackson $108,235 in salary.
The suspension will begin Sept. 5 and Jackson is eligible to be added to the active roster Oct. 5. He can play and practice during the preseason, and will miss regular-season games against the Cowboys, Bills, Giants and Redskins.
"I let my team down. … I let a lot of people down," a contrite Jackson said Tuesday. "The fans, I'd like to apologize to them for the decisions I made that got me in this situation."
Jackson, 24, also apologized to his teammates when they gathered as a group Tuesday.
"I felt like I owed my teammates," he said.
General manager Mark Dominik, citing confidentiality rules, said he could not comment specifically on the nature of Jackson's violation. But the league's policy addresses mostly drug and alcohol abuse. Steroids are governed under a separate policy.
Pursuant to league rules, players are not suspended under the substance abuse policy until they reach Stage 2 of the "intervention program." That means Jackson likely failed to comply with the terms imposed on him while in Stage 1. The terms can include anything from counseling to increased testing. A subsequent failed test would be a definite violation. Jackson has no plans to appeal the decision.
"I had to comply with some things and as a result of that, that's what led to my suspension," Jackson said without elaboration.
He was not caught by surprise.
"When Mark Dominik brought this topic to me and let me know this was happening, it wasn't a shock because I knew the situation," Jackson said.
On the field, the resulting hole figures to be filled by Will Allen, a one-time starter who lost his job after Jackson was drafted in the fourth round in 2007.
Jackson's loss deals a major blow to the depth in the secondary. With former safety Jermaine Phillips a full-time linebacker, and Allen slowed by a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason opener, coaches had Phillips work at safety at times on Tuesday as a contingency plan.
"It's unfortunate what happened to Tanard, but I've always been ready," Allen said. "He made a mistake and I know he's learned from it and I can't wait to get him back on the field. I'm just ready to step up."
Said Phillips: "My role is whatever the team needs me to do. … I tell everybody, I'm not a linebacker. I'm not a safety. I'm like the 'Slash' of defense."
Jackson's substance abuse issues aren't recent. "It was something that was before I got into this league,'' he said, ''but it kind of lingered on and led to my suspension."
Is it the wakeup call he needs?
"I definitely have some off-the-field issues I have to address for myself and the well-being of this team," Jackson said.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org