Colts’ Malik Hooker makes ‘emotional’ debut

Malik Hooker

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – On what has been a seven-month journey, Malik Hooker is close to regaining his stride.

No more baby steps. No more hesitancy. And soon, no more “pitch count.’’

When the Indianapolis Colts trotted out on the Lucas Oil Stadium field Sunday for their first training camp practice, they were accompanied by their first-round draft pick.

“It was a lot of emotion for me, pretty much making my debut as a Colts player,’’ Hooker said.

His transition from All-American safety with the Ohio State Buckeyes to starter-to-be with the Colts has been slowed as Hooker had surgery in January to address a sports hernia and hip injury. When he hasn’t been deep in film study, he’s been working tirelessly with the team’s rehabilitation staff.

Finally, he was actually able to play football again. It marked Hooker’s first practice since the Buckeyes’ final prep work for their Dec. 31 Fiesta Bowl matchup with Clemson.

“I’ve been working out, but it’s not the same,’’ he said of his sessions with the Colts’ rehab staff. “This is the first time I’ve done seven-on-seven and actually seen full competition full speed since (December).’’

As expected, Hooker will be on a pitch count as camp unfolds. Sunday, he went through early individual drills and spent the tailend of practice with the rehab staff.

“It’s like starting to walk all over,’’ he said. “You’ve got to crawl, then you’ve got to walk, then you’ve got to jog.

“Everything right now is going great for me so I’m just glad to be out there with the team.’’

Early in the week it was thought Hooker encountered a setback with his rehab. The team placed him on the physically unable to perform list Monday, citing a minor hamstring injury, before adding him to the active roster Saturday.

Hooker dismissed the hamstring issue.

“The hamstring got blown up,’’ he said. “It wasn’t what it was. I was still in therapy and rehabbing from the surgery I had in January.

“I’m definitely ready to go. It’s on the coaches and the treatment staff when they want to let me get out there and compete.’’

For the first practice, Darius Butler and Matthias Farley were the starting safeties. The long-range plan, though, undoubtedly is for Hooker to be ready for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener in Los Angeles against the Rams.

That’s certainly his goal.

“To be realistic, that’s everybody’s expectations,’’ Hooker said. “You want to get out there and be a starter.

“But I’m here to do whatever the organization wants me to do, whether that’s special teams or starting. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.’’

Hooker is the first safety taken by the Colts in the first round since their relocation in 1984, and he’s exactly what’s been missing with their defense. In his first season as a starter, Hooker had seven interceptions and returned three for touchdowns.

The Colts tied a franchise record low with eight interceptions last season.

“I definitely know a lot’s expected of me,’’ Hooker said. “At the end of the day, I feel like the Colts organization and the coaching staff drafted me for a reason.

“There is no reason for me to go out there and be somebody I’m not.’’