FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Steven Jackson practiced on Monday for the first time in almost a month, and Falcons coach Mike Smith said the running back is on schedule to be play in Atlanta’s season opener against New Orleans.
Jackson had not practiced since July 28, when he hurt his right hamstring. There was added concern because the running back missed four games with a left hamstring injury last season. Because it was the preseason, the Falcons took a cautious approach to Jackson’s recovery.
Jackson, who also had not been available for interviews since the injury, said Monday he always knew this hamstring injury was less serious.
“I knew this injury was nothing like last year,” Jackson said. “But at the same time, you have to listen to your body. I wanted to make sure I did that. In the NFL season, you don’t get time. This time I had time to make sure I was right.”
Jacquizz Rodgers has started at running back in Atlanta’s first three preseason games. Antone Smith and rookie Devonta Freeman have been the top backups.
Smith would not say if Jackson will play in the Falcons’ final preseason game at Jacksonville on Thursday night. Some established starters are not expected to play.
“In terms of what we’re going to do with playing time, there will be some guys that will and there will be some guys that won’t,” Smith said.
“We’ve got some guys that we need to get some work and we’ve got some guys that we definitely know what they’re capable of doing. The ones that we know what they’re capable of doing will probably not get a lot of work.”
Jackson was hurt on the Falcons’ first practice in full pads. The Falcons did not wear pads in Monday’s workout.
Jackson, 31, said he doesn’t need much time to prepare for the season.
“It’s not that tough,” Jackson said. “I’m an old veteran guy. I know the tricks of the trade, what to do to get in shape.”
The Falcons may choose to avoid exposing Jackson to hits in a game before the regular season.
Asked if he wanted at least a few snaps in a preseason game, Jackson said, “I love the game of football, so whenever there’s a football on the field and two teams opposing, you’re ready to play.
“At the same time, those hits in the preseason hurt just like the ones in the regular season. Whatever way coach decides to go, I’ll be prepared for it, but just because it’s the preseason doesn’t mean the hits are any softer.”
The Falcons finished last in the NFL in rushing last season. Jackson, the NFL’s active career leading rusher, set career lows with 543 yards rushing and 3.5 yards per carry.
The Falcons have given Rodgers the chance this preseason to show he can be more than a change-of-pace back. He had eight carries for 33 yards and five catches for 31 yards in Saturday night’s 24-27 preseason loss to the Titans. Rodgers (5-6, 196) was stopped on a fourth-and-1 run.
The Falcons hope the powerful Jackson (6-2, 240) is healthy for those short-yardage situations in the regular season.
Jackson said he pressed to force his return last season and took a more relaxed approach with this injury.
“Last year I was stressed to make sure I was out there on the field,” he said. “I felt I had something to prove. And this year I said, you know what, I’m going to take it with a grain of salt. I’m going to make sure I’m 100-percent healthy when I come back, so that the Atlanta fan base gets to see exactly what they expect.”