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Just imagine what a healthy Malik Hooker can do for the Colts

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Hooker at full speed should be very fun to watch, in an Earl Thomas kind of way.

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

You might look at Colts safety Malik Hooker’s stats from last season and think to yourself “wait a minute, this guy has already broken out.” And it’s true he played pretty well last season. Hooker started in 14 regular-season games and was credited with 44 tackles, four passes defensed, and two interceptions, which isn’t too shabby.

But go back and look at his stats from his injury-shortened rookie season. The guy already had four passes defensed and three interceptions in his first seven games in the NFL. So, aside from the increase in tackles, Hooker didn’t make much of a jump production-wise last year. That isn’t to say he didn’t play better in some areas, but he still wasn’t the guy everyone thought we would see back when he was in college.

Hooker’s story so far as an NFL player is not an unfamiliar one. Sometimes, cats come into the NFL and battle injuries that end up hindering their play and production on the field. Sometimes that can be all it takes for a player to get labeled as a “bust” or cut from the team that drafted them. Even high draft picks are sometimes given a short leash these days.

In Hooker’s case, his injury issues started before he was drafted 15th overall in 2017.

After his final season at Ohio State was over, Hooker ended up having hip surgery and hernia surgery, which caused him to miss most of the offseason. Then that summer, he injured his shoulder in training camp just as he was finally getting healthy. He eventually did have an encouraging start to the season, starting six of seven games. Unfortunately the injury bug bit him once again, and this time it was major because he tore both his ACL and MCL. That injury, of course, ended his rookie season just as it was really getting started.

Boy, that was a mouthful.

Just typing all that was tedious. I can’t imagine how it felt to actually go through it the way Hooker did.

Last season was a little bit of a healthier one for Hooker, but he still ended up missing two regular season games with a hip injury, as well as the playoff game against Kansas City with a foot injury. So, while he was available to play a lot more than in his rookie season, he likely wasn’t back to 100 percent for many of those games.

What was particularly hampering about Hooker’s injuries is that his speed was one of the big factors in his playmaking ability in college. That guy had crazy range and was really good at tracking the ball in the air. There is no way he was running full speed coming back from hip surgery in his first season, nor coming off a torn ACL last season.

I’m not saying he wasn’t playing fast, but he wasn’t the blur that I saw back at Ohio State. As well as he has played so far, the truth is I doubt we have even seen Hooker play at close to what his “normal” full speed should be.

Ohhhh, but we might be getting closer to just that.

Heading into his third season in the league, Hooker is probably the healthiest he has been since his last season in college.

He is almost two years removed from the ACL tear, too, which is when most guys look like they finally trust their knee not to give out if they really open up. That also means Hooker had a full offseason to get bigger, stronger, and faster and work on his craft on the field, rather than having to rehab.

I should probably knock on wood before I type this (knocks on wood), but it looks like we will finally be able to see what Hooker can really do when he is in top form this season.

When I watched his film, even though he didn’t look quite as fast as he once did, the guy still looked as confident as ever on the field. For instance, when the ball was in the air in his vicinity, he didn’t hesitate to try to go for the interception rather than just settling for a pass breakup or a tackle the way some young defensive backs do. He is a ballhawk at heart, and he goes for picks like the pass was meant for him.

So just imagine what’s going to happen now that Hooker has his wheels back and can put himself in position a lot more often to get his hands on the ball.

Just imagine.

I also believe that Hooker being in the same defense for two years in a row is going to help him improve his production.

Chuck Pagano and his staff, including defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, were fired after Hooker’s rookie season. That offseason, in addition to all the rehab stuff he had to do for his knee, Hooker also had to try to learn a new defense under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who was brought in by his new head coach Frank Reich. Mind you, he had to learn it without being able to practice what he had learned until training camp last summer.

The Colts now run a bit more of a Cover 2-based defensive scheme, which meant some adjustments to Hooker’s responsibilities last season. This season, however, he should know all the ins and outs of what Eberflus wants him to do and play with a little more confidence as well.

I will say that on film one area where I thought Hooker improved quite a bit from his first year to his second was with his tackling technique. He’s listed at 6’1 and 214 pounds and he can pack a punch when he wants to, but in his first season Hooker didn’t always seem to bring his legs with him on contact, and that allowed some runners to break his tackle attempts.

The difference to me from his rookie year to last year was that he started to tackle “through” the ball carrier on a regular basis. Meaning, Hooker would hit the guy with the ball, then explode out of his hips and run his feet so that he could drive through the other player’s body to get him down. It was a lot more effective than just hitting and trying to wrap up.

The improvement even showed up on his low tackles, where he wasn’t just trying to dive at their legs anymore, but rather diving into them. If he can carry that over to this season with his athleticism back, Hooker should be one of the better tackling safeties.


I don’t think we have seen anything close to Hooker at his best since he came into the league, but hopefully this will be the year all of that changes. Hooker at full speed in his second year in Eberflus’ defense should be very fun to watch, in an Earl Thomas kind of way.

With the way Hooker goes after the ball when it’s in the air, and his ability to run with it in his hands, the party will just be getting started once he picks one off. If he can stay healthy this season, I believe Hooker has the talent to turn in a Pro Bowl-type year.

Selfishly, I am pulling for him because I want to see what healthy Hooker looks like, too.

Confidence level: High