- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The path to the NFL is a hard road, and for most you only get one shot. Tanard Jackson is one of the lucky few who will get a second chance to prove that he belongs in the league.

“It feels good, man,” Jackson said last week. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to be back out here after being away from football for two years. I’m just blessed to be in this position.”

Blessed is a good way of putting it. Despite signing with the Washington Redskins in April 2012, he has never played a down of regular-season football for them.

At the start of training camp in 2012, Jackson was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list because of a calf injury. After being cleared to play that July, he was only with the team for a month before being suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He wasn’t reinstated until last month, missing the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Jackson. “Anytime you’ve been away from something you love for two years and have those that believe in you to bring you back to an organization and just to give you an opportunity.”

The Redskins are still hoping to get a return on their investment despite the 28-year-old’s checkered past. When he was suspended in 2012 it was his third drug-related violation since entering the league in 2007. Both of his previous suspensions came when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2009 he was suspended for the first four games of the season and in September 2010 he was suspended indefinitely and did not play again until October 2011.

Washington has been known to take chances in the past, but in this case the Redskins may be particularly willing considering their lack of depth at the safety position. They may also be hoping that pairing him with Ryan Clark, who signed as a free agent this spring, will help him get back on track, but the respected veteran doesn’t plan to push too hard.

“Those relationships build themselves,” said Clark. “I can’t come here and just because Tanard has gone through some things just force him to be a part of my life and learn from me. … You don’t just get in front of people and say this is the way you should live your life. All you can do is live yours to the best of your ability and they can draw pieces from that to help them.”

The ultimate measure of Jackson’s worth, though, will come on the field, and safety remains an area of need in Washington. The Redskins ranked 19th in the NFL in pass defense last season, giving up 3,896 yards through the air.

Jackson is one of many new faces the team will count on for better results in 2014, and his teammates have welcomed him back wholeheartedly.

“He’s a great guy. He has experience,” said second-year safety Phillip Thomas. “He’s a veteran in this league. [I] definitely could learn from him as well, but we bring him back with open arms. I’m glad to see him be reinstated and back doing what he loves to do.”

The coaching staff is also happy to have the extra help on the field, and seem to believe that Jackson’s off-field issues are a thing of the past. Coach Jay Gruden is willing to give Jackson a shot at a roster spot, but intimated that this will most likely be his last opportunity to make it in the NFL.

“You know people make mistakes,” said Gruden. “He had an unfortunate incident or two … and this is probably his last go around. So he’s going to make the most of it, I’m sure he’s a good person, a good player and hopefully he’ll learn from his mistakes off the field and perform at a high level like we know he’s capable of.”

If Jackson can stay out of trouble off the field he could be a real asset to a sparse secondary. He showed flashes of real talent in his previous stint with the Buccaneers, recording 56 tackles and two interceptions in his rookie season in 2007.

Gruden is hopeful that Jackson’s time away from football has not affected his ability to perform on the field.

“He doesn’t look like he’s been away for two years,” Gruden said “He’s done a good job. He’s mentally into it, physically he’s in good shape, a lot better shape than we were thinking he would be, so he’s done a good job.”

Whether or not Jackson can still play at an elite level after being away from football for so long remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, Jackson is not taking his second chance for granted.

“It feels great to get back out here and be a part of this,” Jackson said. “[It’s] something I love to do and just have the opportunity to showcase my talents and be back out here with the guys. Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done from here until the season starts, but I’m ready for the challenge and I’m happy for the opportunity.”

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