INDIANAPOLIS —Clayton Geathers is fast, instinctive and physical — all the traits a team could want out of its strong safety.
So when he makes his return to game action sometime this season after undergoing a serious procedure this offseason to correct a bulging disk in his neck, can the Indianapolis Colts expect the same fast, instinctive and physical Geathers that showed so much promise in his first two seasons with the team?
"I'm going to play my game," Geathers said.
Geathers on Wednesday was expected to make his return to the practice field in a limited fashion for the first time all year after starting the season on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
By being on regular-season PUP, a player must sit out at least the first six weeks of the season and cannot practice; at that point, the Colts had a five-week window to allow him to begin practicing; then, by practicing for the first time on Wednesday, the team now has a 21-day window to decide whether or not to add Geathers to the active roster or to keep him on the PUP list for the rest of the season.
Geathers has high hopes that he'll be able to return to game action in 2017.
"Absolutely. That's always the goal," he said. "That's why I'm here — to play."
A fourth-round pick of the Colts in the 2015 NFL Draft, Geathers opened many eyes during his rookie season, when he had 31 tackles with one fumble recovery and one pass defensed, as well as finished third on the team with eight special teams tackles, in 15 games with two starts.
He earned the starting strong safety job heading into 2016, and started all nine games in which he played, finishing fourth on the team with 60 tackles (two for a loss) and adding five passes defensed and one forced fumble.
In the Colts' Week 11 game against the Tennessee Titans, his fourth-down stop on running back DeMarco Murray sealed a 24-17 Indianapolis victory. Unfortunately, that would be Geathers' final game played in 2016, however, as he started experiencing pain in his neck that he said wasn't going away.
Geathers was inactive the next three weeks, and then was placed on Injured Reserve, officially ending his season, prior to the Colts' Week 15 game against the Minnesota Vikings. After determining the disk in his neck wasn't shrinking, Geathers and the team elected for surgery in March.
Despite warnings that he might never see the field again, Geathers put all his confidence in his faith.
"It's a serious injury — it is," Geathers said. "I'm no fool to the fact — it is a serious injury. But like I said … I believe in a higher power. And he got me."
Geathers could be making his return to the Colts' secondary at a time when they need him most — after starting free safety Malik Hooker suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday in the team's 27-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Geathers said "losing Malik is a big blow, and I feel bad for him," but he's made sure not to put any additional pressure on himself to get back on the field any sooner. He said he "(checks) off all the boxes" as far as his recovery is concerned, but still has one major hurdle to clear: making, and taking, contact.
If everything works out, the soonest Geathers could return to the lineup for the Colts would be the Week 12 matchup against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We've got to check off all the boxes with the contact and things like that," Geathers said. "And once I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go."