LINCOLN — Teammates have been talking about Charles Jackson's greatest hits since the spring.
Popping a ball carrier out on the edge. Stuffing a running back at the line of scrimmage. Smacking a receiver over the middle. You name it.
He apparently clobbered the 225-pound Imani Cross once in an offseason practice. Fired up the whole defense. As Jamal Turner put it: “I think everyone's been hit by Charles.”
Yet the sophomore safety is still working to prove himself as a reliable contributor on the back end of Nebraska's young defense.
Mistakes are magnified at his position. And it's those mental miscues that were effectively nullifying the big-hitting ability his teammates loved to rave about. Instead, the coaches' focus shifted away from his potential and back to his youth-related flaws that could prove costly in a game.
But Jackson knew this.
“I saw what I needed to do,” Jackson said. “I had to get better at a lot of things.”
He appears to be making a jump. Jackson said Tuesday that he's been getting more reps in practice, working primarily with the second-team defense.
Coach Bo Pelini mentioned Jackson specifically after the South Dakota State game as a player who the staff would like to see on the field more. The Huskers are still searching for consistency at the safety spot next to Corey Cooper.
Jackson could be that guy. He certainly feels more comfortable now.
“It's slowing down for me a lot more,” Jackson said. “I'm getting a grasp of the mental aspect of the game. It's just coming along a lot smoother.”
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That's a credit to Jackson's work ethic outside of practice, Cooper said. There's been a clear commitment by Jackson to understand more about the nuances of the position.
“He's an effort guy. And that's on and off the field now,” Cooper said. “He's putting in the same effort to learning, so that's coming along.”
There's never been a question about Jackson's ability on the field.
“A beast.” That's how Cooper described Jackson, who's listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds. Junior Josh Mitchell used the same phrase six months ago. Teammates have called Jackson a “go-getter” and a “freak.”
“You hear some oohs and ahhs out here when you see Charles back there,” Mitchell said.
But playing time isn't awarded based on the amount of big hits guys tally. In fact, coaches have discussed how those types of highlights can sometimes prevent growth — if players are discarding their responsibilities just to make a play.
Pelini said last week that Jackson needed to “play within the defense.”
Jackson gets a relatable message every time he talks to his parents. “They always tell me to relax,” he said.
That's easier now than a year ago, though. He began fall camp at nickel back, moved to cornerback as the season began and was taking a few reps at safety by bowl prep. A little bit overwhelming, he admitted.
But he started gaining confidence in the spring. And that was about the same time he started hammering teammates and slamming them to the turf.
“There's a lot more you have to learn and get down to play, but I like safety,” Jackson said. “You come down and hit a lot more. It's an aggressive position.”
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Video: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck after practice
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