ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Steven Jackson knows all about fear now, and it has nothing to do with a linebacker's punishing hit. He watched a shark slide through the water and devour a seal.
The St. Louis Rams' Pro Bowl running back spent his offseason rehabbing from back surgery, watching World Cup soccer games in South Africa -- and diving with sharks.
"It's not even like running out of the tunnel or anything," Jackson said. "You can actually go into panic mode down there. Anytime I tell this story I think the scariest thing is not seeing the shark when he disappears into the murky water."
Watching from an underwater cage, Jackson saw one 18-foot-long shark that "you could have mistaken for a whale."
"I actually witnessed one hunting and devouring a seal," he said. "That was pretty nerve-racking. It makes you forget about the cold, icy water, I'll tell you that.
"You kind of get the blood going."
Watching Shark Week on TV the week before the trip wasn't enough to prepare him for that.
He turned 27 just last month, but Jackson already has a list of things he wants to do before he dies.
He'll see more soccer games. He's had enough up-close time viewing great whites, thank you.
"It was a neat experience. It was one of those things on the bucket list that I always wanted to do," Jackson said. "I did it; I won't do it again. But you know, I lived to tell about it."
One of Jackson's teammates thought it would have been the sharks that were relieved when the 235-pound running back surfaced.
"He probably scared the sharks away," linebacker James Laurinaitis said Sunday. "Swimming with sharks. I'd be in the boat probably pointing them out."
Out of the water, Jackson watched three World Cup games, including United States vs. Slovenia. Among his take-home souvenirs: three of those annoying vuvuzela horns.
"Those things," Jackson said, "are hard to blow."
Jackson carried a 1-15 team that earned the No. 1 pick of the draft on his aching back last season, and his total of 1,416 yards rushing was the second-best of his career. This despite playing the last third of the season with a herniated disk that required surgery in April.
"That last five or six weeks was pretty painful," Jackson said. "Going through it I think I proved a lot to myself, being able to fight through the pain and still be somewhat productive."
When training camp opened Saturday, he was enthusiastic about the success of the rehab. No problems taking hits in full contact drills Sunday, either.
"Everything's up; everything's going good," Jackson said. "We really worked to make sure the durability will still be there and I can still run the natural way I'm used to running."
Coach Steve Spagnuolo figured Jackson would slowly work up to speed, but Jackson is already there.
"I think it's more so just getting my feet underneath me again, making the cuts I'm able to make and working on the field of vision," Jackson said. "The football, the hitting, I'm not worried about it. I'll be ready to go."
Notes: The defense appeared well ahead of an offense that'll eventually be led by No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford but for now has journeyman A.J. Feeley at starting quarterback. Among the big hits: Linebacker Larry Grant knocked fullback Mike Karney's helmet off. ... Some players appeared surprised there wasn't hitting on opening day again, considering the change evidence of Spagnuolo's growth as coach. The Rams are holding two-a-days every other day, too, instead of every day. ... Offensive tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick last year, remained restricted to individual duty while rehabbing a fractured big toe.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)