Colts Circling Game 3 For Malik Hooker’s Preseason Debut

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WESTFIELD, Ind. — By the time the Indianapolis Colts take the field for their third preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, it will be exactly 10 months and three days since the team saw its then-budding rookie safety suffer a brutal season-ending knee injury.

But after working through a relatively quick recovery period and then dominating his rehab work, Malik Hooker is just about ready to roam the Indianapolis secondary once again.

The Colts have circled that game against the 49ers as Hooker’s likely 2018 debut, general manager Chris Ballard said in a recent appearance on 1070 The Fan’s “The Dan Dakich Show.”

Hooker, the Colts’ first-round (15th-overall) pick in last year’s NFL Draft, was projected by many to be a star in the making at the safety position, where he had led the nation in pick-sixes his final year at Ohio State and showed a knack for constantly being around the ball and making plays.

He proved those evaluators — and the Colts — right in the first few weeks of his rookie season, picking off three passes and, by about midseason, easily being considered a top candidate for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

But in the Colts’ Week 7 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hooker’s promising first NFL season came to an abrupt halt after he suffered a torn ACL on a grueling-looking play in which he was taken out at the knees along the sideline by a Jaguars receiver.

Hooker was able to walk off the field under his own power, but the damage had been done. Not long after that, he was placed on Injured Reserve and went under the knife.

Since that time, Hooker has quietly, but intensely, been working his way back. While he missed the entire on-field portion of the team’s offseason workout program, Hooker maintained a day-by-day approach to his rehab work with a focus on getting back to the field during training camp.

With Clayton Geathers, who was also recovering from a knee procedure, working by his side, the two safeties, each of whom entered training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, would each pass physicals and be placed back on the active roster on Thursday.

While both Hooker and Geathers still have a little work to do to be thrown into an actual practice setting — both have participated in stretching and some position drills their first two days back — they are now allowed to take part in team walkthrough sessions, in which the defense is able to install its various schemes and make major corrections.

“The reason we took both of them off: they’re both very close,” Ballard told Dakich. “Would I say they’re there yet? No. The rules, when you’re on PUP, is you can’t participate in any walkthrough practices. You can’t go stand out there and mentally get reps with your teammates, and they both were at a point — with Hooker really being about a week away from really being able to engage again; they can do individual drills — but that walkthrough practice is critical.

“And our defense does a bunch of walkthroughs; a lot of their meeting time is on the grass, and they do a lot of walkthrough stuff. So being able to just get those guys involved a little bit earlier is going to be beneficial.”

Hooker is expected to hit the nine-month recovery period from his ACL surgery around Aug. 9 or 10, Ballard said, which is typically a major milestone for athletes of his caliber.

“It means the statistics drop to where you’re gonna have the second knee injury,” Ballard said. “Does it guarantee success? No; it doesn’t. But that’s the point where we think we can really start to push him ahead.”

And then, if all goes to plan, the team can get Hooker back in its lineup a couple weeks later in their third preseason game against the 49ers.

It’ll be just another box to check for a young, talented player who believes he'll come back even stronger after such a tough injury.

“I’m more mentally strong than I was last year by far,” Hooker told reporters last week. “The ACL injury is a difficult injury to recover from. But for myself, I think and the coaching staff thinks that I’m doing a great job of recovering from that and just getting back out there, not thinking twice about cutting, moving and things like that. So I think that’s where I’ve grown a lot.”

The Muscle and the Ballhawk. 😈 #ColtsCamp

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