Return To Game Action ‘A Long Time Coming’ For Malik Hooker

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INDIANAPOLIS — Saturday will be exactly 10 months and three days since Malik Hooker suffered a brutal season-ending knee injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It’s sure felt like a lot longer to the second-year safety.

But all the hard work required to get back to the field will pay off in just two days, when Hooker is expected to make his 2018 debut for the Indianapolis Colts in their preseason Week 3 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Hooker told reporters on Wednesday. “So for me finally get out there and get cleared to be able to go out there and play Saturday, it’s a great feeling.”

At the time he suffered his injury, Hooker was certainly proving his worth as that year’s first-round (15th-overall) pick by the Colts out of Ohio State. He had picked off three passes — all coming in consecutive games — and was undoubtedly a top candidate for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award when he sustained a hard, low block while trying to pursue a ballcarrier down the sideline Oct. 22 against the Jaguars.

Although he was able to walk off the field under his own power, the damage had been done. Hooker’s sensational rookie season had been cut short even before it could reach its halfway mark.

The surgery and rehab work that followed was tough, but by the time the 2017 season had ended, Hooker found he had a partner in crime to take on the workload right beside him: Clayton Geathers.

Geathers, who underwent neck surgery during last offseason and was able to return to the field to play in five of the Colts’ last six games, had decided to undergo a minor procedure to clean up his own knee, and so the two safeties — both of whom were already close — got even closer.

“Since I’ve been here he’s been like my mentor,” Hooker said. “Because Clayton was hurt when I first came in and (was) coming off of surgery, and he’s pretty much just had me under his wing since I’ve been here. So anytime I do something, that’s the guy that normally you see me doing it with.”

The Colts are counting on that close bond to translate onto the field for a young, rebuilt defense.

Geathers was able to make his 2018 debut in Monday night’s preseason Week 2 game against the Baltimore Ravens, and he made an instant impact. Head coach Frank Reich is expecting the same when Hooker joins him on Saturday in the Colts’ secondary.

“From the start, when he got back on the field you could just feel his presence,” Reich said of Geathers. “Just … getting excited about getting Hook (Malik Hooker) back out there as well, two playmaking safeties can make a huge difference in a defense. I mean, a huge difference. I know we all know that.”

“It’s been great to have those two guys back,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said this week. “I mean, they have what we talked about the instincts and the strike and the speed and all those things and the quickness. And those guys as they get playing with the system and with other guys in the unit we should see them blossom. We should see them really take off and see them make really impactful plays that will change the game for our team.”

That feeling of excitement isn’t contained to just Reich and Eberflus, of course.

When the first-year head coach told Hooker earlier in the week the plan was for him to get a few snaps on Saturday against the 49ers, “it instantly made me feel real, real special,” the safety said.

“You know, you sit out for so long, you be away from the guys that you’re around all the time, it definitely makes you feel some type of way,” Hooker said. “So for me to finally get back, I’m happy and blessed to be back out there with those guys.”

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