Scottsdale, Ariz. - Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom's chances of playing in Sunday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Tennessee appear doubtful.
Wistrom's injured left knee kept him from practicing Wednesday, and Husker Coach Frank Solich said that while the sophomore hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game, the chances of him playing are not good.
"The doctors feel that he's doing pretty well, but there was a little soreness there yesterday and today," Wistrom said. "We backed him off completely today. We'll see where he's at tomorrow, but it's probably going to be doubtful that he'll play."
Wistrom suffered a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Nov. 30 and missed Nebraska's 22-6 victory over Texas in the Big 12 Conference championship game on Dec. 4. He returned to practice Monday, and participated in parts of Nebraska's workouts that day and Tuesday.
In meeting with reporters before Tuesday's practice, Wistrom said he was encouraged about his chances of playing against the fifth- and sixth-ranked Volunteers. But he suffered a setback in practice Tuesday afternoon, and that forced him to miss Wednesday's workout at Scottsdale Community College.
"It's rough," said Wistrom, describing his turn of emotions in just more than 24 hours. "I was doing very well in practice, and then I went on one play, got heads-up on a guy and tried to block him. The knee just buckled. I woke up this morning, and I was pretty sore."
"I haven't written it off by any means, but the chances of playing are real slim especially since I didn't go today. I wouldn't get any contact before the game. Being out a month, it would be difficult to come back, especially with as fast-paced as this game will be, and get it going. I wouldn't say that there is no chance at all, but it's pretty slim."
Wistrom's injury is similar to the one suffered by teammate Bobby Newcombe at the beginning of the 1998 season. Although Newcombe eventually underwent surgery, Wistrom hopes to rest and rehabilitation can get him back on the playing field without an operation.
"It's discouraging, but I don't want to re-injure it more and be out six months to a year," Wistrom said. "Hopefully, I can rehab it and come back next year. If I had to have surgery, it would set me back quite a bit."
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Wistrom set a Nebraska receiving record by averaging 26.8 yards per catch this season. He had 16 receptions, which ranks him third behind Matt Davison (29) and Newcombe (19), for 429 yards and two touchdowns.
If Wistrom can't play, redshirt freshmen Aaron Golliday and Jon Bowling will join senior captain tight end T.J. DeBates in the mix for playing time at tight end. The Huskers often use two tight-end formations, which means the trio should see extensive playing time.
Golliday has three catches for 54 yards this season, while Bowling had the first two catches of his career, for 30 yards, while subbing for Wistrom in the Big 12 title game. DeBates has been used primarily as a blocker during his career, and has one catch this season for 18 yards.
"We're fortunate in that we have good depth there, although it's not a position where some of those players have a lot of playing time and have gotten a lot of experience," Solich said. "But they're good athletes, and it's a good group.
"T.J. obviously has a lot of experience, and Aaron Golliday got a lot of playing time coming down the stretch. Jon Bowling is coming along. We have players there who have played enough football that we should be OK, and I don't see anything on that end of it that will keep us from playing well."
One of Wistrom's regrets about possibly not getting a chance to play Sunday is that he will be denied a chance to regain the family lead for touchdowns scored this season. Brother Grant, the former Nebraska All-American and now a defensive end with the St. Louis Rams, also has scored twice this season by returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns.
"I already got the call from him after he returned that one the other day," Tracey said, laughing. "I really wanted to get in this game to try to get one more. I told him he's had a few more games than I have, and he's had a few more balls thrown to him, so he should have more than I do.
"We gave each other a hard time. I guess I have more receptions, but his catch-to-touchdown ratio is better than mine. He's 2 for 2, and he's doing a great job. I finally got to see the one he had the other day, and he actually looked somewhat athletic. He made a real good catch."