His best friend, at least momentarily, is time.
“I just think time is going to be the thing,” says Charles Jackson, the last of about 140 Husker football players to leave the practice field Wednesday.
He’s learning to be a safety at Nebraska. In his mind, that means learning to basically be one of the quarterbacks of the defense.
A guy who knows not just what he’s supposed to do within the scheme, but why he’s supposed to do it and what it means to the big picture of the defense.
“It’s pretty challenging mentally,” he says. “You've just got to grind through it and pick it up each and every day and learn more and more.”
And so the sophomore studies film whenever he can, and is among a group of young defensive backs who stays after each practice listening to secondary coach Terry Joseph.
Joseph is a demanding coach, Jackson says.
And then he says something else: “That’s not a bad thing.”
Husker coaches clearly are high on Jackson’s potential. He begins this spring working with the second string at safety (juniors Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson start it with the first string), but there are many practices to still work out that battle.
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said going into the spring that there likely will be an important role for Charles Jackson in this defense. Whether it be safety, nickel or cornerback, “we’re going to get him on the field one way or another.”
Safety is the spot for now.
Why do coaches like him there?
“The thing about Charles is his best attributes are he’s fast, has cover skills and he’s a good tackler,” Papuchis says. “You saw that in special teams a year ago. And one of the things we were kind of looking for at safety is to kind of find an eraser. When everything didn’t go exactly right, a guy who could 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.”
Yes, the native of Klein, Texas, made his presence known as a special teamer a year ago. Most of his 11 tackles came covering kicks.
Coaches liked the physicality Jackson played with despite his listed size of 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.
“A lot of people ask about his weight, but I'd take him more than I'd take a lot of guys bigger than him,” Joseph says.
Still, it’s been more than two years since Jackson played consistently as an every-down player.
After signing with Nebraska in 2011, he missed that year while clearing some academic hurdles.
Jackson was patient and persevered. Joseph could tell the defensive back was keyed up to play again when he got back on the field in 2012.
At one point last year, Joseph described Jackson as the “Energizer Bunny,” noting he probably said “Yes, sir” about 5,000 times during the first week of fall camp.
“I think when you do sit that season out, you come out and you're almost too gung-ho,” Joseph says. “You want to get it all today because you feel like you missed so much. And when you come in, you try to swallow the whole defense, which is hard for anybody to do. Then you kind of get overwhelmed. So I think that's why he was able to help us out more on special teams, where we said, 'Hey, go chase the ball.'”
He chased it well.
But now? Now, the attempt to be more than that.
Now, Joseph sees Jackson slowing down to better understand things. Processing the information as he can, but also realizing you can’t figure it all out in one day.
“I think he's finally slowed down enough to say, ‘You know what? I've got to learn this specific part of the defense. And as I stay here year after year, then I'll understand the entire defense.’”
Jackson knows it’s going to be a grind. It’s much different from high school, when the four-star recruit was the man, on the field all the time.
“You just have to rebuild your respect and keep grinding on the field, off the field, academically,” Jackson says. “Rebuild it.”
That’s where the benefit of time comes into play. There are still roughly 40 practices until the first game.
That's some good building time.
But Jackson has also been around the game of football long enough to know that time doesn't stay a friend forever.
“After spring ball, fall camp will come up and the season’s going to hit just like last year,” Jackson says. “It comes up fast every year. It never changes.”