TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - Tampa Bay’s improved defense was dealt a blow Wednesday when safety Tanard Jackson was suspended for a minimum of a year without pay for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
The league made the announcement, saying the fourth-year pro has been suspended indefinitely but will be eligible for reinstatement beginning Sept. 22, 2011.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating and disappointing for everybody,” general manager Mark Dominik said.
Jackson sat out the first four games of the 2009 season while serving a previous suspension for violating the substance of abuse policy.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2007, the 25-year-old Jackson is the only defensive player in Bucs history to start every game in his first two seasons.
Despite the four-game ban last season, Jackson finished with five interceptions in 12 starts. He had 13 tackles in two games this seasons, helping Tampa Bay to its first 2-0 start in five years.
“Tanard is a talented young man whom we hope is able to use this year to put his troubles behind him and ultimately return a stronger man and player,” Dominik said. “It’s up to Tanard whether the team and our fans eventually realize his considerable promise.”
The suspension was revealed about two hours after Jackson and his teammates left the practice field. Coach Raheem Morris was not available for comment, and Dominik said the club is prohibited from releasing specific information about players in the league’s drug program.
Jackson’s replacement at free safety likely will be fourth-year pro Sabby Piscitelli, who lost the strong safety job to Sean Jones during training camp. Rookie Cody Grimm and Corey Lynch, who was signed off Cincinnati’s practice squad last year, are the other safeties on the roster.
“Talking to Coach Morris, obviously we have a position open. He’s going to take the next few days to determine who’s going to be the starter going forward,” Dominik said. “We are happy we did have guys like Corey Lynch and Cody Grimm and Sabby Piscitelli, and obviously Sean Jones, who played well enough to be on this team.”
When Jackson, who has eight career interceptions, returned from last year’s suspension he talked about how difficult it was being away from the team and how much football means to him.
“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,” he said in October.
“I definitely felt I let my team down,” Jackson added at the time. “I disappointed myself, but your actions affect others around you, and that’s one thing that hit home.”
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