ST. LOUIS — Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis never got the chance to tackle running back Steven Jackson during their four seasons together with the St. Louis Rams.
That'll change Sunday when the Rams (1-0) play against Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at noon at the Georgia Dome.
"You never hit 'Jack' in practice," Laurinaitis said. "That was a fireable offense. It'll be different."
Laurinaitis said bringing down the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Jackson will be no easy task.
"He still has it," Laurinaitis said. "He's still rumbling and snorting and throwing the dreads around. He takes great care of his body, and I know he'll be fired up for this one."
Jackson played in 131 games during his nine seasons with the Rams, piling up a franchise-record 10,135 yards and eight straight seasons with 1,000 or more yards.
Jackson will be the fifth player in NFL history to play against a team for whom he rushed for 10,000 yards, joining Emmitt Smith (Dallas), Thurman Thomas (Buffalo), Fred Taylor (Jacksonville) and La Dainian Tomlinson (San Diego).
"I'd be lying to say I don't want to get the win," Jackson said of playing against his former team. "Of course, I want to get the win, but I have to come out there and just remain in the zone, in my focus and not get too up.
"When you allow emotions to take over, your wind becomes short, you're not even thinking, you're not on you're A-game."
Jackson's departure from the Rams was about amicable as breakups go.
The Rams reworked his contract prior to the 2012 season, and as a result, he became a free agent this past winter.
"Once we sat down and saw that they were going to allow me to go to the free-agent market, then I left it to the business of my agent," Jackson said. "I went away on one of my safari runs, and I just got away from it all. I put the criteria together as a list.
"I was telling my agent, 'If teams are not looking at using me in the way I wanted to be used, don't even interrupt my vacation.' I just let him deal with it from there."
Jackson ended up signing a three-year, $12 million contract with the Falcons on March 15. He received a $3.5 million signing bonus.
"Personally, (I was) really happy for 'Jack,"' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's in a good situation down there. You watch him in the first game, and he looked like he's in great shape for the number of years that he's played in this league. It's going to be a big challenge for our defense.
"I'm sure he's going to be excited to play. He only ran it 14 times last week, and I'm sure they're going to try to get their run game back on track. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
Jackson had 122 yards from scrimmage -- 77 rushing and 45 receiving -- in the Falcons' 23-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints last week. He also dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds.
Jackson admitted feeling a little strange wearing a Falcons uniform after so many years playing for the Rams.
"It didn't feel different until I actually saw it on film," Jackson said. "When you actually look at it and you see yourself in red and black instead of the blue and gold, it was quite different then.
"It's been a little bit different this week studying the guys, looking at them schematically, differently than I have over the years. It's separating the personal from the business."
Jackson has remained in contact with many of his former Rams' teammates.
"We've all mutually agreed that we're going to play each other hard come Sunday, but after that we're going to root each other on throughout the season," Jackson said.
And, among Rams players, Jackson still is a respected figure.
"'Jack' meant a ton both on the field and off the field," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I think I learned more about being a leader from 'Jack' than probably anything, just watching the way that he handled himself in different situations in the locker room and on the field."
"I have the utmost respect for Steven," Laurinaitis said. "Personally, I think he is a Hall of Famer. Circumstance has put him to where he hasn't had that playoff experience, but look at what he has done, that small group of guys who he is with as far as 1,000-yard seasons."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.