Jackson's status is undecided
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay's Tanard Jackson is practicing again after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
The third-year safety is eligible to be activated for Sunday's game at Philadelphia, however coach Raheem Morris said Thursday a final decision has not been made on whether he'll play against the Eagles.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2007, Jackson is the only defensive player in franchise history to start every game in his first two seasons. His suspension was announced during training camp and further weakened a secondary that was already relying on two new young starters.
While he was out, the Bucs lost veteran safety Jermaine Phillips for the season with a broken thumb and have yielded six pass plays of 40-plus yards -- five of them for touchdowns.
"I'd like to think I could have made a difference," said Jackson, who returned to practice on Wednesday.
"It's good to see him back. ...I'm sure it was hard enough on him watching this team lose football games without being here," Morris said.
"We don't have to make a decision until the end of the week whether he's going to be up this week or not. We've got the one-game exemption. But we'll go to the end of the week and see whether he's ready to play or not, and how good a shape he's in."
When Jackson rejoins the lineup, sixth-year pro Will Allen will return to the bench and restore some of the depth the Bucs have lacked safety since Phillips, who began training camp at weakside linebacker, was injured on Sept. 20.
The 24-year-old said he split time between Tampa and Syracuse, where he played in college, during the suspension. He declined to discuss the specific reason he was disciplined, saying he had apologized to teammates and family and is eager to move on.
"I could sit here and go on forever as to how much I learned. The main thing is that this is what I love to do, this is what I'm blessed to do," Jackson said, adding that it was extremely tough watching the games on television.
"I definitely felt I let my team down. ... I disappointed myself, but your actions affect others around you, and that's one thing that hit home," Jackson said.
Morris, who was Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach before becoming the NFL's youngest head coach in January, picked Jackson up from the airport this week and had a long conversation with the safety.
The coach said the player paid for his mistake. Now, it's up to Jackson to make the most of the opportunity to resume his career.
"He apologized before he left and told us he was going to come back and clean up his life and do everything that needed to be done," Morris said.
Jackson described the conversation with Morris as a long positive talk.
"He is just happy to have me back," the safety said. "Just as happy as I am to be back."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press