Steven Jackson back practicing

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who injured his left hamstring at the beginning of training camp, returned to practice Monday for the first time since the injury.

"Felt good out there today," Jackson said. "It's always exciting to be on the field with your teammates. Quite different than when you're on the side rehabbing by yourself. But to be in the mix of things with my teammates, it felt pretty good."

Jackson had his helmet on as the team began individual drills. Coach Mike Smith said from the beginning that Jackson would be ready for the Sept. 7 opener against the New Orleans Saints.

Smith also didn't rule out the possibility of Jackson playing in the final exhibition game Thursday night at Jacksonville. Starters typically don't play much in that game.

Jackson injured his right hamstring in Week 2 of last season and missed four games. This time, he injured his left hamstring during a July 28 practice.

"To be quite honest with you, it's going to kind of sound kind of like I'm blowing smoke ... but when the injury happened to the other leg, I just asked myself and said, 'There's a reason for this, and I'm going to approach it in a different manner,' " Jackson said. "Last year, I was stressed. I wanted to make sure I was out there on the field. I felt like I had something to prove. And this year, I said, 'You know what? I'm just going to take it with a grain of salt. I'm going to make sure I'm 100 percent healthy by the time I come back so that the Atlanta fan base gets to see exactly what they expect.' "

In terms of playing in Thursday's final preseason game, Jackson said he would leave it up to the coaches.

"I mean, I love the game of football, so whenever there's a football on the field and there are two teams opposing each other, I'm ready to play," he said. "But at the same time, those hits in the preseason hurt just like those ones in the regular season hurt as well."

Wide receiver Julio Jones was happy to have Jackson back at practice.

"With all these weapons we've got outside ... if you're going to go zone, we're going to run the ball," Jones said. "And that dimension there, with the running game with Steven Jackson, man, I mean he's big, strong. And he's athletic. He can run a guy over. He can take it to the house. He's got the speed and everything, too. So that's a great part."

In other injury news, starting right guard Jon Asamoah had a slight limp as he walked on the field without a helmet at the start of practice, but it's unclear if he suffered any type of leg injury. Asamoah was pulled from Saturday's game against the Tennessee Titans, which would indicate he got banged up during the contest. He was replaced by Harland Gunn.

Safety Dez Southward, who suffered a head injury Saturday, was held out of practice Monday. He appears to be going through the concussion protocol.

Returning to practice Monday were offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (ankle) and tight end Mickey Shuler (concussion).