INDIANAPOLIS — The 2018 season was a trying, but overall successful one for the Indianapolis Colts' safety group.
Although fans finally got to see the tandem of Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers on the field together, the position group as a whole struggled with injuries throughout the season — some more than others. One of its biggest leaders, Matthias Farley, was lost early in the season following Week 5. A week later, it welcomed the arrival of veteran free agent Mike Mitchell. He, too, would eventually land on Injured Reserve, ending his season prematurely.
However, a brief switch to a safety-hybrid position as well as the guidance of Mitchell helped revitalize cornerback Quincy Wilson, and rookie undrafted free agent George Odum showed he belonged in the NFL. The safeties were a key part of the Colts being one of the NFL's best defenses at limiting big plays, as teams rarely tested them downfield.
- Started 14-of-14 games (one-of-one in playoffs), 44 tackles, one fumble recovered, two interceptions and four pass breakups
Hooker took on a slightly different role in 2018 than he did as a rookie. Instead of the single-high centerfielder that he was previously, he became more of a "preventer" in 2018. Quarterbacks rarely dared to test the Colts deep, in part due to Hooker's elite range and ball skills. When they did, he made them pay as he picked off two errant downfield passes and nearly came down with a couple more.
Although Hooker dealt with various injuries throughout the season, he was able to see action in 15 games in 2018 (including playoffs) as opposed to just seven that he did in 2017 when he suffered a midseason ACL injury.
Hooker's presence was sorely missed by the Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs against NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs offense. Hooker was forced to sit out with a foot injury, and perhaps Mahomes would not have felt as comfortable with the threat of Hooker looming downfield.
- Started 12-of-12 games (2-of-2 in playoffs), 89 tackles (one for loss), one forced fumble, three pass breakups and two quarterback hits
Geathers was a true warrior for the Colts in 2018, battling through nagging injuries and rarely going through a full week of practice to still suit up for 14 games. Colts general manager Chris Ballard reflected on Geathers' toughness and will to play after the season-ending Divisional Round playoff loss to the Chiefs.
“I thought our team showed great courage down the stretch. I think individual players – T.Y. Hilton, Jabaal Sheard who has been banged up. I think when you watch the tape you can see it. Clayton Geathers – I got emotional with Clayton after the game because I love him. I mean I do. I love everything Clayton Geathers stands for," Ballard said. "I watched a guy every week fight his tail off to get ready to play. When we got to that last game and Kansas City was just better. They just were better. We had guys that had been hanging on and not being able to get full weeks of practice in and I think it just finally caught up to us at the end of the day.”
Throughout his career, Geathers has been a leader for the Colts' defense and a tone-setter in terms of giving all-out effort and showing toughness. He had a four-year single-season career high in tackles in 2018, as he was able to play his most games since his rookie year in 2015.
In Mitchell's second game with the Colts — Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills — he earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. In the contest, he racked up seven tackles, an interception, he forced a fumble which was recovered by the Colts and he had another pass breakup. Mitchell was a stud on the field, showing clear leadership and instincts through his 10 years of NFL experience. However, his biggest contribution to the Colts, perhaps, was off the field, as he mentored several young defensive backs, Wilson in particular.
"Mike Mitchell – the impact of Mike Mitchell upon Quincy. I think Mike helped him quiet his mind down and helped him understand control what you can control," Ballard told reporters following the season. "Do your best and control what you’re doing and you’ll get to your ceiling. It’s fun."
Geathers also spoke about the impact Mitchell — who is due to hit free agency in March — had on the team.
"His leadership, the way he approaches the game, the way he approaches each week, week in and week out. Just little things (like) going to the board and making sure everybody's on the same page. Mike was a great addition. It sucks that he went on IR, but he's a fighter and he's a warrior. So we wish him the best, but he's gonna be okay."
The undrafted rookie out of Central Arkansas appeared in every game for the Colts, starting two of them. With injuries throughout the season to the position group, Odum played quite a bit. Something turned in his favor (aside from opportunity) late in the year, as he went from playing an average of 1.7 defensive snaps per game between Weeks 1-10 to 24.4 snaps per game from Week 11 through the end of the season including the playoffs. At home against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15, Odum pulled in his first-career interception as he dove for a tipped Dak Prescott pass. He was also a key contributor on special teams.
The Colts used three safeties regularly throughout the year, and Farley was the third man before landing on IR, ending his season, following Week 5. That week, he carried designations for hamstring, shoulder, groin and wrist injuries.
Before his season was done, Farley made sure to make an impact, as he had 19 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and four pass breakups in five games. He played 151 defensive snaps in those games.
Moore was primarily a special teamer for the Colts, although injuries to other Colts safeties occasionally put him on the field defensively. Moore saw just 52 snaps on defense but 271 on special teams. He did, however, register his first-career interception in Week 7 against the Bills.
Wilcox signed with the Colts in Week 16 after playing the first five weeks of the season with the New York Jets. Injuries forced him to play often right away, as he 15 defensive snaps in Week 16, 23 in Week 17, none during the Wild Card Round and then 75 snaps in the final game of the season against the Chiefs. He had nine tackles and a pass breakup in those three games.