Suspended twice from the game that he said he loves, Bullis School graduate Tanard Jackson is trying to continue a career in the National Football League that has flourished on the field but been derailed off it.
His latest chapter is happening close to home. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released Jackson on April 10, but three days later he signed with the Washington Redskins. He spent parts of five years with the Buccaneers, who drafted the safety in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He rejoined former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, who is now Washington’s secondary coach.
“When I got released, it was kind of a no-brainer [to sign with the Redskins],” Jackson said last week. “They were the first team to contact my agent and I’m familiar with coach Morris and I’m familiar with the area.
“It feels great. It’s a tremendous opportunity. All of my family is here and I grew up watching this team. There’s a good atmosphere with the players we have with the draft picks with, obviously, RGIII [rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III], so I’m happy to be a part of it.”
At Bullis he set a school record with 19 interceptions to go along with 3,121 career rushing yards, 1,007 career receiving yards and 39 total touchdowns, earning him a scholarship to Syracuse. Jackson instantly became an integral part of Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield after moving from cornerback to free safety.
“When you get into the regular season of the NFL, the speed is tremendously faster than at the collegiate level,” Jackson said. “I made the right move to safety. I’m a better safety than a corner in this league. I’m more of a downhill guy. I like the contact and supporting the run.
“You get a different view as a corner. You’re backpedaling against receivers with world-class speed. I wasn’t one of those blazers coming out of college. Safety, that’s more me.”
Despite the position change, Jackson began his NFL career in the starting lineup where he remained all season while recording 47 solo tackles with two interceptions and 13 passes defended. Jackson remained in the starting lineup in 2008 (48 solo tackles, one interception) and in 2009 (59 solo tackles, five interceptions) but he missed the first four games of the 2009 season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
He tested positive for a banned substance following his entrance into the NFL’s intervention program in 2010 and was limited to just two games while being suspended for the rest of the season.
Jackson counts his “staring week one as a rookie and making it to the playoffs” as the high points of his career while “my lows are obviously, the off-the-field trouble that has kept me away from the game I love.”
The 6-foot, 196-pound Jackson returned from suspension in October of 2011 and started 10 games. He finished with 32 solo tackles, two interceptions and three passes defended to give him 193 career solo tackles, 10 career interceptions and 27 career passes defended.
He is now one of many safeties on the Redskins roster trying to claim a spot on the team and perhaps even a starting spot. Jackson’s quest to do that, however, was initially slowed by a lingering shoulder injury that hampered him last year and a calf injury. He returned to action Aug. 3.
“We’re all competing and it’s very competitive,” Jackson said. “We’re all up for it. First and foremost, I’m learning the playbook and learning the system and learning about the guys around me. Second, I’m perfecting my craft, working on making plays and being a playmaker and making plays when the opportunity presents itself.”
Jackson recorded a tackle and an assist in Washington’s 7-6 preseason victory against the Buffalo Bills Thursday.