Husker junior nickel back Charles Jackson, on the verge of having a leading role in Nebraska's defense, will undergo surgery and miss the entire season, coach Bo Pelini confirmed after Thursday's practice.
Jackson has been wearing a brace on his left knee after suffering an injury during Tuesday's nonpadded practice.
"After evaluating it, for his long-term best interest, they're going to go ahead and fix it," Pelini said. "It's not a horrible injury. It's a very unusual injury. When they determined whether they wanted to rehab it and come back, they determined for him long-term that the best thing was to go ahead and fix it now. He'll come back. He'll be better than ever when he comes back."
Pelini said it's a difficult injury to classify. He equated it in some ways to the medial collateral ligament sprain suffered by running back Rex Burkhead during his senior season, but said it was slightly different in nature. Jackson is expected to undergo surgery in the next few days.
“That’s a huge loss right there. We needed Charles this year," said sophomore defensive tackle Maliek Collins. "We just have to stay strong and be good teammates to him and help him get back for next year.”
Jackson does have a redshirt season, so he will have two years of eligibility remaining when he returns in 2015.
Still, it's a big blow for a player who was meeting his potential this offseason, earning high praise through the winter and spring from coaches and peers.
"This was the right thing to do, and when our medical staff, when they make a recommendation like that, I don't even blink an eye. You follow it. It's whatever is in the best interest of the kid," Pelini said.
With Jackson out, junior-college transfer Byerson Cockrell becomes a leading candidate to be the man at nickel back. True freshmen Josh Kalu and Trai Mosley also are getting looks there.
"Love Byerson Cockrell," Pelini said. "He's a really good player, very smart. ... Like I said, we're going to miss Charles, but we have some good football players. We'll be fine."
The 6-foot, 185-pound Cockrell wasn't highly recruited, but NU coaches loved his physicality. The junior immediately showed it off in the spring, playing everything from nickel to corner to safety.
"He's all-business every day," said defensive coordinator John Papuchis. "And that has nothing to do with being more in the spotlight (now) or anything else. He's been that way since he got here. We always thought he'd have a role. Didn't know exactly how it'd play out. It's unfortunate that the role became nickel because of what happened to Charles, but I have total faith in Byerson."