Malik Hooker set to take ‘next step’ in Colts’ defense

Malik Hooker

WESTFIELD, Ind. – The attention is always there. The focus is always just a bit sharper.

It comes with the territory.

We’re talking about Malik Hooker, who’s been in that oft-times wilting spotlight since the Indianapolis Colts put him there April 27, 2017. Welcome to the NFL, kid. Now deal with the pressure – the expectations – that comes with being the 15th overall selection in the NFL Draft.

As Hooker enters his third season, he’s as – knock on wood – healthy as he’s been since his formative days at Ohio State. No more rehab following hernia/hip surgery following his final year with the Buckeyes. No more rehab after tearing two knee ligaments that shortened his promising rookie season to seven games. No more issues with a hip injury that forced him to miss the Colts’ second-round playoff loss at Kansas City.

“No surgeries for me,’’ Hooker said with a wide grin during the offseason. “I’m excited for this year for myself, mentally, emotionally and physically because this is the best I’ve been since college.’’

He’s backing up the big talk with a big training camp.

Hooker seemingly has taken as many reps – maybe more – than any other member of coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense. He’s displaying the sideline-to-sideline range and ball-hawking instincts that convinced Chris Ballard to invest his first draft pick as the Colts’ general manager in the Ohio State All-American.

Ballard has seen the flashes, but injuries continually have impeded Hooker’s growth.

“We expect Malik to take another step this year,’’ Ballard said.

Again, the first two weeks of training camp have been encouraging. While Frank Reich has given more than a few players “maintenance days,’’ Hooker has yet to miss a day.

More than that, he’s playing at a high level. Again, he’s as healthy as he’s been since he was a playmaking Buckeye.

“Where it is showing up I think the most is some aggressive moves to the ball,’’ Reich said. “Now with pads on, you can see that confidence.

“I saw it the first day in pads. In fact, I said something to Malik. I just felt a real aggressiveness and confidence in his movements.’’

Hooker has been downright giddy since the day the Colts convened for their offseason work in mid-April. For the first time, he would be a full participant in on-field work instead of spending time with the trainers and rehab personnel.

Nothing’s changed now that the Colts are immersed in their second camp at Grand Park Sports Campus.

“For me, first it’s happiness,’’ Hooker said. “Happy to be out here, happy to come out here and be able to compete every day. When you get a major injury and you’re out for a long period of time, you start to be like, ‘Man, I wish I was out there with those guys.’

“So for me to finally be out here full-go every day, it’s just happiness for me.’’

A happy and healthy Hooker should enable Eberflus’ defense to take another significant step. A unit that ranked 30th in yards allowed per game (367.1) and points (25.3) in 2017 improved to 11th (339.4) and 10th (21.5), respectively, last season.

It’s easy to wonder whether Hooker is on the verge of third season replete with fat stats. In 21 games, he’s generated five interceptions. That includes three in his first seven games before he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee week seven against Jacksonville.

Hooker isn’t preoccupied with individual objectives.

“My goals are more team goals,’’ he said. “I feel like if the team is winning, then the personal goals come along with it. Obviously, you saw that last year we made that roll: Darius (Leonard), (rookie) defensive player of the year.

“That comes along with team goals. AFC champions, playoffs and hopefully Super Bowl champions. That’s my main goal. I don’t like focusing on what I want. You know, I want to win. That’s my main thing.’’ 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Bluezone Podcast:

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