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Malik Hooker Snags Interception In First-Career Start

Posted Sep 18, 2017

Intro: Malik Hooker’s ability to make game-changing plays from the safety position led to his first-round selection by the Colts in the 2017 NFL Draft. On Sunday, in his first-career start, he nabbed his first NFL interception, showing exactly what he brings to the table.

INDIANAPOLIS — In the week leading up to Sunday’s Week 2 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, as it became more and more apparent that Malik Hooker would be making his first-career start at safety for the Indianapolis Colts, his coaches couldn’t help but rave about the safety’s natural skillset.

“He has had a good week,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “Natural, instinctive. The game is really easy for him.”

“He does things naturally,” defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. “He’s one of those guys that can make more plays by accident than a lot of guys can make on purpose, just simply because he has great instinct and great feel. He understands the deep part of the field, but he’s not afraid to get down lower and help you in the run game.”

It’s not that these attributes were necessarily surprising for either Pagano or Monachino. The Colts used their first-round pick this year on Hooker for those very reasons — because his natural ability and prowess from the safety position led to game-changing play after game-changing play during his career at Ohio State, where he led the nation with three interceptions returned for touchdowns last year and finished third in the nation in total interceptions (seven).

But seeing it in person — seeing it up close in your own defensive scheme — is still an exciting prospect for the Colts’ coaching staff.

Hooker would end up getting the start, the first of his career, on Sunday against the Cardinals, and it wouldn’t take long for him to prove his coaches right, as he earned his first-career interception in the second quarter of the Colts’ 16-13 overtime loss at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Oh, it felt good,” Hooker said after the game. “I wish it was with a win, of course, but obviously you’ve got to take (pride) in that and feel good about it.”

The big play for Hooker was the result of the rookie safety taking advantage of some good coverage by another 2017 top draft pick, second-round selection Quincy Wilson, who locked in on Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson in single coverage on the left side of the field.

Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, looking for a big play with his team down 10-3 late in the second quarter, delivered a high pass off his back foot, which was easily sniffed out by Hooker around the Indianapolis three-yard line. He then returned it 32 yards to the 35.

“The cornerback did a good job of forcing the quarterback to have to overthrow it a little bit,” Hooker said. “And I was just able to get a good read on the quarterback and a good break and make a play.”

While hearing Hooker describe the play sounds simple, Monachino said the exciting thing about the rookie safety’s potential is when he mixes his natural ability with his growing understanding of offensive schemes and tendencies, which is what he showed on Sunday.

“You see him ramping up from the mental side of it a great deal, and that’s only going to help, right?” Monachino said. “Playing on pure instinct is one thing. ‘Hey, I’m in the post. I know what I’m doing in the post, and that’s what I’m going to be.’ That’s not an easy thing to do physically, but if you just line a guy up in the post, that’s easy, right? Now he’s getting to the point where he’s starting to see. He’s getting better with route recognition. He’s getting better with splits and angles and where the route tree goes based on those things. So (I’m) really, really excited about where Malik is.”

While plays like Sunday’s interception are expected to become a common occurrence for Hooker in the Colts’ defensive backfield, his key is to remain healthy. He underwent surgeries in January to his hip and labrum that kept him out of most of his first offseason program with the Colts, and then sat out part of the first week of training camp after suffering a hamstring injury during a conditioning test.

Then, Hooker would only play in one preseason game this year while he dealt with a shoulder injury.

Now 100 percent — he played all 66 snaps with the defense against the Cardinals after playing in 46 percent of the defensive snaps in a reserve role Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams — Hooker can finally start putting it all together.

“It’s been pretty exciting for myself, just because I haven’t been fully healthy since college,” Hooker said. “And for me to finally be back out there, especially game week, and being 100 percent learning the gameplan knowing I’m going to be a part of it and ready to go at full capacity is definitely an exciting thing for myself.”

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