It’s not easy to make splash on special teams. For one, it usually means a player’s not getting a ton of playing time elsewhere. So he bottles all that adrenaline and uncorks it a couple of times a game on kickoff and punt coverage. Early in his career, Eric Martin became a fan favorite that way before morphing into the Huskers most reliable pass rusher in 2012.
Now it’s Charles Jackson’s turn to try and make the same leap. Sitting behind Ciante Evans at nickel back last year, Jackson made the most out of his special teams opportunities, proving that he’s a big hitter with big speed to match.
He looked a lot like a safety so that’s where Jackson’s at this spring as Nebraska’ looks to replace starters Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith.
“His best attribute is that he’s fast, has cover skill and he’s a good tackler,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said of Jackson. “You saw that on special teams last year.
“One of the things we were looking for at safety was to kind of find an eraser. When everything didn’t go exactly right, a guy that can track a guy down and go make a play. He’s a good open field tackler, which is something that we were lacking a year ago at times, and I think he’s going to grow into that role pretty well.”
Nebraska has a pair of veterans back at safety in Harvey Jackson and Corey Cooper, meaning Jackson’s been taking all of the second team reps. A bit of high school experience has helped smooth the transition from corner to safety, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“I had one year of safety experience in high school, but this is a big jump,” Jackson said. “You have to actually understand your defense and what the offense is doing. In high school the difference was you just go. Get in the hole, fill it, and stay over the top of everything. It’s not like that here.”
Jackson was forced to sit out a year following high school due to some confusion over credits with the NCAA Clearinghouse. The result, defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said, was a player who showed up last January hoping to make up some ground quickly.
“(Charles) was a guy who was so excited that he wanted to do it all right now. When you try to learn a new system, you hit a wall. So he hit the wall and he got a little frustrated.
“Now I think he’s starting to realize that he needs to learn his position and then the rest of the defense will come to him,” Joseph said. ”Ability-wise, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Slowly, the scheme is starting to click for Jackson. He spent time with Stafford and Smith in the film room after Nebraska’s bowl game, which has helped, but he knows he has to make peace with making some mistakes this spring.
“Things do slow down, but we just install so much per day that you got to pick it up,” Jackson said. “Even if you don’t get it, you’ve got to go over your mistakes in the film room.”
To prepare for the transition, Jackson bulked up over the past two months, adding about 10 pounds to come into spring practice at 180. By next fall, he hopes to be “pushing 190.”
For now, Jackson remains in the middle of the whirlwind, one of a number of young Huskers looking to make a dent on Nebraska’s wide-open defensive depth chart. The one thing that’s already clicked for him at his new position is the view.
“I feel like (safety) makes everything a little bit easier because you’re over the top of everything,” Jackson said. “You have the vision to see over people and you get to see the big picture. You couldn’t do that at every other position and I’ve played them all.”