COLUMBIA — The best wide receivers in the nation are said to have pillow-soft hands. Jerrell Jackson will have to make due with only one of them on Saturday.
The top-returning wide receiver on the Missouri football team broke a bone in his left wrist on Aug. 11 and had surgery to insert a screw in the bone on Aug. 16. The injury was expected to keep Jackson off the football field until the Tigers' Big 12 Conference season starts in October.
Then the timetable for Jackson's return was moved up. Last week, he said he might be able to play in the Tigers' Week 3 game against San Diego State.
But San Diego State was not soon enough for Jackson. He had to be out there against Illinois. After some hard work and some fast healing, and with the help of a cast, Jackson is expected to play Saturday in St. Louis, nearly a month earlier than originally expected.
Jackson's quick recovery begs comparisons to X-Men superhero Wolverine, who had the power to heal at a superhuman rate.
"Nah, I heal pretty quick, though," Jackson said. "The wrist is not 100 percent, but the cast will make me 100 percent and keep it safe."
Jackson will return at a new position — aptly named the X wide receiver position — on the outside of the Tigers' spread offense. Before the injury, the junior was at the H (slot) wide receiver position.
With off-the-field issues clouding the Missouri football program this week, Jackson said he felt it was more important than ever to get back on the field.
"From the first day I was hurt, I wanted to be out there for my team," Jackson said. "Unfortunately, we had all those circumstances. I'm just glad I got ready and healed quickly enough to get back for this game. I think the team is excited about it."
Sophomore T.J. Moe filled in at the H receiver position while Jackson was held out of practice and will retain that job when Jackson returns.
"T.J. is a playmaker and he actually fits that position pretty well," Jackson said. "We've always been talking about if me and him were together on the same side. I think he's going to be a really good fit."
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said Monday he wants the best three receivers to start each game and, despite having two slot receivers in Jackson and Moe in the top three, the decision to move Jackson to the outside was an easy one. Jackson played as an outside receiver for Missouri as a freshman.
Jackson doesn't fit the prototype of an outside wide receiver, a position more suited for a tall and lanky basketball player than a strong and stocky football player. Jackson is 6 feet tall, but he said he'll have no problem jumping over cornerbacks to make touchdown catches.
"I am very good at high-pointing the ball," Jackson said. "And my speed and quickness? Off the charts. I will make plays, catching the ball and running the ball."
Jackson's game cast will be a softer version of his current model, which goes up one-third of his forearm and covers nearly his entire thumb.
Jackson said that he's been able to catch well even without thumb mobility, but he might ask for a bit more thumb to be exposed on his new cast. He joked that with only one healthy hand he might have to catch every pass like his spectacular one-handed, behind-the-back grab at Colorado in 2009.
"Blaine knows that I'm ready to catch," Jackson said, referring to quarterback Blaine Gabbert. "I told him, 'Throw me the hardest ball you can throw right now.' He put some heat behind it, and I caught it pretty darn natural. It wasn't that hard."
Still, Jackson said performing well on Saturday will give him the most confidence.
"These past few practices, the quarterbacks haven't taken anything off the ball, and I've been bringing it in like the cast wasn't on," Jackson said. "But yeah, I'll feel a lot more comfortable after the first catch against Illinois, and then I'll be all good."