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Hooker finally makes debut with Colts


Here’s a twist: some positive injury news from the first practice of Colts training camp.

For the first time since the Colts made him their No. 1 pick in April, Malik Hooker was on the field for the team’s open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Now, we’ll see what kind of closing speed this guy has on the playbook.

It wasn’t a full practice for Hooker, who spent much of the last hour going through individual drills as part of his ongoing rehab from hip and hernia surgery in January, but at least he was out there.

“It was a lot of emotion for me, making pretty much my debut as a Colts player, my coaches seeing me for the first time,” he said, flashing a broad smile. “For me, it was a lot of emotion, feeling excitement, and just ready to get out there and work.”

While recovering from the multiple surgeries on his hip and hernia, Hooker missed the entirety of the OTAs and minicamp. Just when it appeared he was ready to go, he injured a hamstring while undergoing a conditioning test prior to the rookie camp last week, and was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

At the time, that appeared ominous.

But the day before practice Sunday, Hooker was removed from PUP, clearing him to get his career started. Coach Chuck Pagano said Hooker will remain on a "pitch count" until fully cleared.

“For the first day just moving around in a couple months, going out there and competing with the guys for the first time, it definitely felt great,” Hooker said. “I’ve been working out, but for me to get out there and move around as a defense, it’s been my first time since like January.

“It’s like starting to walk all over. You’ve got to crawl, then you’ve got to walk, so everything right now is going great for me and I’m just glad to be out there with the team.”

The time already missed is a big deal for two reasons. Hooker has only one season as a starting safety at Ohio State under his belt, and the Colts are counting on him to start every game -- not only this season, but for years to come.

He has six weeks, which sounds like a lot of time to prepare before the regular season opens on Sept. 10. But that really boils down to nine more practices in camp before the preseason schedule begins, and then maybe 10 more before the lights go on.

“I know he’s concerned and he should be,” said defensive coordinator Ted Monachino. “This is a big jump, just as high school to college football is a big jump. This is a big jump and he’s missed some chances to improve, but I know him as a guy and I know the type of man that he is and the type of competitor that he is. I think he’ll take to it just like a duck to water and be caught up pretty quickly.”

Mix in the absence of the team’s other starting safety, Clayton Geathers -- on PUP and expected to miss roughly half the regular season -- and the expectation that another rookie, second-round pick Quincy Wilson, will start at cornerback, and the Colts will have a wildly inexperienced secondary.

In other words, these guys need every rep they can get.

“We’re going to continue to push forward and continue to go in the same direction that we’ve gone,” Monachino said. “In terms of the install, we’re not going to slow any of that down just because we’ve got some guys that are either new at the position or still trying to learn what we do as a system.”

Understand, Monachino already has streamlined his scheme from last season in order to allow the players to spend less time thinking about their responsibilities and more time hitting people. So he isn’t taking some unreasonable hard-line stance; as the coordinator, he simply cannot hold back the entire unit to allow the younger, less experienced players to get up to speed.

So it’s up to Hooker, Wilson and the others in this overhauled defense to make the most of the time they have.

Because Sept. 10 is coming, ready or not.


Photo of Malik Hooker by Getty Images

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