S Dexter Jackson believes the Buccaneers can still make a run for the playoffs
Dexter Jackson had just finished talking with the New England Patriots when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers called with an intriguing proposal.
"They said, 'We need safeties. You could come play this Sunday,'" recalled Jackson, the ex-former Buccaneer. "I'm very, very familiar with the defense. And I'm smart – I know a good thing when I see it, and it was a good thing."
Jackson was enjoying the experience of being wanted again after his release from the Arizona Cardinals roughly a month before. The Cardinals had let him go from their injured reserve list, where he had landed with a back injury originally discovered during spring mini-camps. After demonstrating that he was healthy to potential suitors, Jackson says he had found several teams in the market for a former Super Bowl MVP coming off a 100-tackle, six-interception season.
"I had a bulging disc, and that took months of rehab," he said. "A back takes time to heal, and that was the main issue, getting healed again. Once I became healed, there were a lot of teams that wanted me. I'm familiar with this defense so I came back here."
Jackson's eye-opening performance in Super Bowl XXXVII was well-timed, as it came a month before he was due to become an unrestricted free agent. Jackson followed that opportunity to Arizona and the Bucs moved on, knowing that occasional free-agent losses are the unavoidable by-product of success. But now he is back in Tampa and his once-and-again teammates are pleased with that development.
"It's nice to have Dexter back," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "Obviously, with Jermaine out for how long we don't know at this point, it's good to gain that experienced player. Dexter knows this defense in and out, and hopefully he can come in and contribute and help us win this weekend."
Jackson is not expecting to step directly into the starting lineup, even with Phillips out due to a forearm fracture. Strong safety Dwight Smith is on the injury report with a knee sprain but was listed as probable when the list came out on Sunday, and fourth-year man John Howell is an experienced reserve at Phillips's free safety spot.
"We have guys ahead of me, John Howell and Dwight Smith," said Jackson. "They're playing great ball. I believe in these guys. I'm just here to be a safety valve. If something happens, I can go in and play either position. I still remember the defense. I played here four years and it's pretty much the same defense, so I'm familiar with it."
Jackson may step in at the back of the depth chart, but he won't be hindered by his back injury. He says he felt ready to go about a month ago. His recovery allowed the Cards to release him, but he could not return to Arizona this season since he was originally on injured reserve. With the Bucs, however, he feels ready to step in at any moment.
"I had to start hitting bags to make sure my back could take the impact," said Jackson. "I've been doing a lot of running trying to [stay in] condition. I passed all the physicals and I'm well."
Others on the Bucs' sixth-ranked defense agree that Jackson can step right in if needed.
"Dexter was a great player when he was here," said linebacker Shelton Quarles. "I know that he's an accomplished player and he'll play well for us."
Since his departure, the Bucs have followed up the Super Bowl win with a 7-9 season in 2003 and a 3-6 start this year. Nevertheless, Jackson got a familiar taste of expected success when he stepped back into the locker room on Wednesday morning.
"I think this team is still hungry," he said. "You take away a couple plays and it's easily a different season, it's easily a 6-3 season. So I'm just trying to help this team win. If I can come in and make plays, if I can I'm happy to do that. If they call my number, I'm happy to do that.
"And I'm very hungry right now. I want to get back [to the Super Bowl]. Hopefully, we can get a win streak here, make the playoffs and be a very dangerous team in the playoffs."