Malik Hooker says not to worry about Quincy Wilson switching to safety

Quincy Wilson #31 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball after a interception against the Houston Texans during the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Malik Hooker offered some advice to those questioning whether Quincy Wilson, cornerback by trade, is capable of making what probably is a short-term switch to safety.

He’s got this.

“Not worried at all,’’ Hooker said Thursday afternoon. “I’m confident in him. I was just telling him that. There ain’t no doubt in my mind that he can go out there and do it.’’

Wilson must go out there and do it Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at hostile Arrowhead Stadium because the Indianapolis Colts are running out of safeties. Hooker still is a few weeks away from returning after undergoing surgery to repair damaged meniscus in his left knee. His running mate, Clayton Geathers, hasn’t practiced this week and remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

That leaves the Colts thin at the position. Rookie Khari Willis, George Odom and Rolan Milligan are the only healthy, true safeties. Willis has been heavily involved in the defense, but made his first career start last week against Oakland. Odom is a special teams standout who has been on the field for just 12 defensive snaps in four games. That’s 11 more reps than Milligan.

So, next man up. Even if it’s a cornerback.

Again, Hooker summarily dismissed any concerns. He’s seen his 2017 draft classmate – Hooker was the Colts’ first-round pick, Wilson a second-rounder – mature on and off the field. He’s watched as Wilson flashed his versatility.

“Quincy has done this before when we were down like this,’’ Hooker said. “Even last year when we dealt with a lot of injuries. The year before we dealt with my ACL and Clayton coming back and being limited.

“This ain’t his first rodeo knowing that he might possibly have to play safety. He plays every position. Quincy plays corner, he plays safety, he plays dime, he plays nickel. Safety basically is another dime. He can cover tight ends. He can play cover-2. He can play middle of the field in cover-3. He can drop in and play (near the line of scrimmage.

“That’s why when you talk to him, he’s so comfortable.

That’s undeniable. Spend a few minutes with Wilson and you’re struck by his unflappable disposition. He understands the enormity of the challenge awaiting the Colts at Arrowhead Stadium – the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs are tied for first in the league in scoring (33.8 per game) and have scored at least 26 points in each of Mahomes’ 23 career starts – but welcomes it.

“Of course,’’ he said. “This is why you play the game. You want to go against the best and make plays. That’s definitely what I’m here for.’’

To this point, Wilson has been here to play corner and be involved in coordinator Matt Eberflus’ sub packages. He’s started 43 of 56 games, all at corner.

At least until Hooker and/or Geathers return, Wilson’s job description has changed.

“Yeah,’’ he said with a smile, “I guess I’m a defensive back now.’’

General manager Chris Ballard lauded Wilson’s versatility during the offseason.

“He’s really football smart,’’ he said. “Right now he’s playing five spots back there. He’ll go corner, dime, nickel, little bit of safety. He can do a lot of roles for us.’’

Ballard was equally pleased with Wilson’s growth as a person and a player. When he reported to Indy as a rookie, Wilson was 20. He also was 214 pounds. Two plus-years later, Wilson has matured and is a firmer 193.

“You guys are going to see it,’’ Ballard said.

Wilson doesn’t have a ton of safety-specific experience to draw on. He appeared in 39 games with 24 starts at Florida, all at corner.

“In high school I started out playing safety, like my freshman and sophomore years,’’ he said. “Then it was corner.’’

Once again, his experience at safety?

“In the NFL, none,’’ Wilson said. “In college, none.

“In practice for sure so it’s not just completely new, like this will be my first time ever lining up at safety.’’

Until Sunday, in an actual game setting. The team isn’t tipping its hand whether Wilson joins Willis in the starting lineup or serves as the third safety and remains an integral part of the nickel and dime packages.

Hooker believes the transition from corner to safety won’t be too much for Wilson.

“If you ask me, I think safety is a little easier,’’ he said. “Corner, you’ve got to chase damn near the fastest guys on the field every play and anticipate every move they make.

“Safety is more about reacting. See and react. At corner, you see a little and react. At safety, you see everything.’’

In that vein, it’s fair to wonder if Mahomes will see everything Sunday. Quarterbacks pay attention when a team starts a rookie at safety or corner. They immediately test them.

Wilson isn’t a rookie, but he’ll be new to the position.

“Sure. No doubt,’’ he said. “I know he’s going to see 31 back there and go, ‘Whoa, I didn’t see that on film. Let’s see what he’s doing back there.’’’

Yes, let’s see.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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