Tanard Jackson has made an enormous impact since returning from his season-opening suspension. In just four games, he has recorded 27 tackles, three interceptions, one forced fumble, three passes defensed and two touchdowns. He scored for the second time this season, and the second time in his career against, clinching the game with his 35-yard interception return late in the fourth quarter.
Aqib Talib actually leads the Buccaneers in interceptions with five, but he had three in one game, which means both he and Jackson have picks in three different games.
That makes the first Buccaneer since Derrick Brooks in 2002 to have an interception in three consecutive games. Brooks enjoyed 2002 en route to the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Brooks eventually snared five interceptions in the regular season and returned them for a total of 218 yards and three touchdowns. So far, has 61 yards and two scores on his picks.
"Tanard had an immediate impact as soon as he got back," head coach Raheem Morris said. "It was 'welcome back' with a hit, a 'welcome back' with an interception for a touchdown—you name it. He's made big plays, he's made big tackles. He's been the guy he was before he left and has come back and developed a little bit of a hunger.
"Some things work out for a reason…I'm not sure if (the suspension) wasn't a good thing for Tanard Jackson."
“T-Jax” had been a regular in the secondary since he was drafted out of in the fourth round in 2007, becoming the first defensive player to start 32 consecutive games to begin his career. His ability made him one of the Bucs' best young players, and he expected to be one of the team leaders on defense this season.
"When you're away from the team, away from everything, away from what you've been doing for years, your livelihood, the approach is now a little more serious," said.
"Tanard has been great," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "He's just a natural football player. You can play him at corner, nickel, safety, wherever. He's just a guy who goes in and loves to play, and makes a lot of plays when he's out there. You just know what he brings to a team overall. He is such a good all-around football player.
"You can line him up in the nickel; you can line him up at safety. You can have him in the box, you can have him as a hole player. You can do everything. It’s just so nice to have a guy that versatile back there."
“I was heavy on the table for Tanard Jackson and for picking that guy up,” Morris said, “I knew he would go down a little. It was a projection that worked out in our favour in a big way.”
When arrived in , the experiment at safety turned permanent. He won the starting free safety job from Will Allen in training camp and eventually became the first defensive player in franchise history to open all 32 games in the first two seasons after he was drafted. Jackson's third season was delayed by league suspension, but since his return he has played better than ever.
“It was a smooth transition," he said of that first summer in the NFL. "I always said that when I got into the league the transition from corner to safety is much easier than safety to corner. It was different in that I had never played the position.
"I think my ability coming out of college and the ability I have as a player, the natural instincts, fit more as a safety in this league. When Raheem told me that he sees me as a safety in the NFL, I took it and ran with it."
In his rookie year, ranked second on the team with 12 passes defensed with two interceptions. In 2008, he recorded a statistic in every defensive category while ranking fourth on the team with 102 tackles and third on the team with 18 special teams tackles.
“It was very difficult to sit knowing that I had that streak," said , 24. "I had to sit for a reason that didn’t have anything to do with football. It was something that I could have controlled. You learn from your mistakes, you wish you can get that time back but you can’t. All you can do is learn from it and move on. It definitely helped me prioritize my life, what's most important.
“During that time away from football, the time away from something you love; you have nothing but time to think about those things. You think about what you want and what’s best for you."
“You can’t make up for lost time,” said. “You can’t make up for the four weeks that I’ve missed. All I can do is come in day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out and perform my job at a high level and try to pick up where I left off and only get better.”
“Since he’s been back everything has been better," said cornerback Elbert Mack.
"I don’t know what it is; he’s just been making plays and flying around. He had some time to think about what was going on. He is more focused than I have ever seen him. He’s understanding the game more and is taking advantage of every opportunity he see’s on the field. That’s what we love about him. With him back there you get that natural comfort level."
Jackson’s former position coach concurs. “He is a good player. He is a really good player. He’s been that way since he’s been here. He’s been a splash player since he’s been here. When he gets the ball in his hands, he looks like a punt returner. He scores and finds a way to be around the ball. He is a splash play type of player. He is always going to be around the football. He has been since I’ve been here”, said Morris.
“He has the ability to make a play on you. It’s been no different every week that he’s been out there playing.”
The Bucs’ No. 36 agrees. “And my job, the game I love to play, is at the top of my list."