Yardbarker Horiz

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jackson Hole

In most conversations, we'd be talking about a valley in Wyoming.  But not this week.  And of all weeks in the past couple years of Buccaneer football this is not the week to alter the conversation:  First 2-0 start since 2005 with a home game this weekend against the also 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers. 

But the conversation has been changed.  Tanard Jackson is gone for the year after failing a test for banned substances by the NFL.  Oh, we've wondered if this day would come, though we didn't think it would.  But it was a nagging fear in the back of neck (right where General Manager Mark Dominik probably has a pain right now).  Now it is a front-and-center headache (Dominik probably has one of those as well).

Not too long ago, analysis of the 2010 defensive backfield was hard to pin down.  Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips are gone.  Sean Jones was picked up from Philadelphia.  Cody Grimm was drafted this past April.  So much flux.  But the mainstay was Jackson, who has started every game (which he has been eligible for) since being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2007.  Now it's not just flux, it's reflux in the defensive backfield.

And yes, this is the same (and only) Buccaneer player the NFL put the Whammy Eye on last season.  Take it down as "Lesson Not Learned".

At this point, one has to wonder if Tanard Jackson's worst enemy is himself.  I have no idea what the "substance" was, but if it was a performance enhancer you would think it would be identified and easily eliminated.  If it is not a performance enhancer, then Tanard Jackson does not need to be in football -- that young man needs rehab, or intervention, or something, anything, because whatever it is has basically cost him his job, his career, and put a big fat "yea, but" next to his name with regard to the NFL.  And, if ignored, it will only get worse for him.  A lot worse.

A sad, sad state of affairs for Jackson.  Best of luck to him, but it won't do him a bit of good.  In the words of GM Dominik, "It's up to Tanard".  It is, completely.

Enough about "Jackson" . . . now about that "Hole".  Tampa Bay has already announced that 2010 draftee Cody Grimm, who has been busy making a name for himself on special teams, will start in place of Jackson this upcoming weekend.  This tells us exactly four things:
-- Sean Jones is too good at run support to change him out of strong safety.
-- Cody Grimm has impressed the coaching staff, apparently quite significantly.
-- Corey Lynch, who was impressive in the preseason, is going to play -- a lot -- backing up Grimm.
-- Sabby Piscitelli, with experience at both safety positions, will probably play both safety positions at various times the rest of the season.
And also this begs one question:
Where does Sabby Piscitelli rank among the safeties these days?  He has prior experience at Free Safety, yet the Buccaneers have decided to go with a rookie.  Is this commitment to the depth chart, or does this tell us the talent on the roster has caught up with Piscitelli?

As alluded to in the prior post about the risks of having a one-more-time-you-are-a-goner player on the roster, the Buccaneers did keep five safeties on the roster coming out of training camp.  This assured the team of a player (and backup) familiar with the defensive schemes should the unthinkable thing happen, which it did.  It's yet another demonstration of the command of the roster wielded by Dominik.

Now that Tampa Bay is down to the "normal" number of safeties, a roster spot is open for a player at any position.  No doubt Dominik is scouring the waiver wire looking for a player able to improve his team.  One possibility is to promote rookie WR Dezmond Briscoe from the practice squad (the Buccaneers are paying him full rookie salary to sit on the practice squad anyway).  Or, perhaps, promote another running back from the practice squad to try to shave some of the load off the knees of Cadillac Williams.  Or they may want another safety and are waiting for the right level of quality to show it's head.  It could be a "get the best available" situation.  Perhaps LB Lee Robinson, DE Erik Lorig, or P Brent Bowden will return to the practice squad.

In any case, the defense which has not given up a point in a 2nd half this season is now going to have to simultaneously protect and groom a new starting safety.  Not easy when your next opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers.  However, after the Steelers is the bye week.  For Cody Grimm it's going to be far from time to relax -- he will be asked grow up in a hurry.  Hopefully he's up to the task.

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