Malik Hooker ‘Going To Be The Player The Colts Brought Me Here To Be’

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INDIANAPOLIS — Major injuries oftentimes leave a lasting impact far beyond what they can do to a player’s physical state.

For Malik Hooker, he found this out the hard way as he worked his way back from the brutal knee injury that prematurely ended his sensational rookie season in 2017.

After a quick 10-month recovery and rehab process, the safety was cleared for action by midway through the preseason last year, but it wasn’t until weeks later that he was able to clear the mental hurdles that can come with such a traumatic injury.

It’s not that Hooker was feeling any pain; it’s just, for the first few weeks of the regular season, his mind would drift with every movement — “Is this when my knee will give in?”

“I was fine physically,” Hooker recalled recently. “It was just all mental.”

But suddenly, in the Colts’ Week 6 matchup against the New York Jets, Hooker’s fears had vanished. With his mind clear — and his knee holding up just fine — Hooker was able to focus solely on football.

That kind of confidence can do wonders for a player — and it showed. And Hooker wasn’t the only one that could see it when he turned on the game film.

“This is a physical game,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said this week. “When you’re feeling good physically it plays out into your body language and into your mindset when you feel like you can make the plays that you normally make. I just think, my guess is, Malik is feeling that.”

Any hesitancy on Hooker’s part certainly never made its way to the opposing sidelines, however. Teams simply weren’t willing to throw Hooker’s way throughout the 2018 season, and when they did, No. 29 was there to make a play. According to Pro Football Focus, opponents attempted nine passes with Hooker in coverage, and just four of them were caught — only one of which resulted in a touchdown. That percentage of opposing targets caught (44.4) ranked second among all NFL safeties.

In 14 games, Hooker tallied 44 tackles, four passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He also grabbed two interceptions, the second of which sealed the Colts’ hard-fought Week 16 victory over the New York Giants.

“It definitely is a big thing just knowing that you are going to go out there and be able to perform how they want you to perform and not have to worry about, ‘Well, what if this happens? What if I get this certain injury or anything like that?’” Hooker said. “That definitely plays a major factor in it.”

Hooker dealt with a couple other nagging injuries throughout the 2018 season — a foot injury prevented him from taking the field in the Colts’ Divisional Round matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs and their high-octane offense — but entered the offseason this year fully healthy for the first time in his professional career.

Upon being selected 15th overall by the Colts in the 2017 NFL Draft, it was hip and hernia procedures that kept him off the field throughout the offseason. Then, of course, he was recovering from major knee surgery last offseason.

This time around? He’s been back in his familiar spot at free safety for every offseason session.

“Right now I feel just as good as I did in college going into an offseason,” Hooker said. “So there is nothing that I can complain about. I’m moving great, feeling great. Weight wise and everything, I am the best I have been since I have been here.”

Reich said he “absolutely” sees a difference in Hooker, even since the end of the 2018 season.

“I see a difference in the way he is moving, making plays on the ball,” Reich said. “He just seems to be – in every aspect of his game – a notch or two higher. So I think that going into this offseason healthy has served him well.”

A clean bill of health, matched with the fact he’s simply more comfortable entering Year 2 in defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ system, has Hooker extremely confident heading into his third season in Indy.

“Personally, I feel like it’s just building off of what I’ve done in the past,” he said. “I feel like coming in my rookie year I did a great job of showing the type of player I can be before the injury happened. Last year was a little bit more quiet. And then this year, I feel like this is the year where I’m going to be the player the Colts brought me here to be.”

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