Tanard Jackson: 'It was a long wait'

ASHBURN, Va. -- Football wasn’t the priority the past two years. Surviving was. So Redskins safety Tanard Jackson worked in a warehouse, trying to support his family. He worked on keeping himself clean, knowing football would never return if that part didn’t happen.

“Anything that was done football related was an afterthought,” Jackson said. “I’ve got kids. I have a family to provide for. Staying in shape wasn’t a big No. 1 on my priority list at that time.”

It is now. Once more, it’s all about survival, this time in the NFL. That means Jackson not only has to prove he can stay clean – he’s already been suspended three times by the NFL – but that he can still play after missing the past two seasons. He had been suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Jackson worked with the No. 3 defense during the OTA session Thursday as coaches slowly work him back in.

“He doesn’t look like he’s been away for two years,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s mentally into it, physically he’s in good shape, a lot better shape than we were thinking he would be. People make mistakes. He had an unfortunate incident or two – we’re going to give him a shot – and this is probably his last go-round. Hopefully he’ll learn from his mistakes off the field and perform at a high level like we know he’s capable of.”

Jackson will show in August whether or not he can still play. For now, he’s grateful to have returned.

“It was long,” Jackson said. “Long. It was long especially being from this area and being around family and seeing the guys on TV and playing. It was a long wait. I put myself in that position. Obviously I had to do what I could to get back and now that I’m back, I’m blessed to have this opportunity.”

He wasn’t sure if it would happen.

“Those negative thoughts creep into your mind when you’ve been out of football for that long,” Jackson said. “It’s not my first time. But with the support from family and support from the NFL saying there was a chance … that gave me hope.”

But it was difficult for him. Jackson was just entering the prime of his career and was in line to start for Washington – his hometown team -- in 2012.

“It was a humbling experience,” Jackson said. “It was something I did and something I had to face the consequences for. I like to put it behind me. … It wasn’t hard to grasp that I put myself in this position and I need to work and if wanted it back it was going to take some work.”

And it’ll take some work to make sure there isn’t another issue. Jackson must undergo multiple drug tests each month.

“A lifestyle change is necessary anytime you’re in a position like that,” Jackson said.