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Malik Hooker eager to put latest injury behind him

Malik Hooker (Photo By Mike Chappell)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – To give Malik Hooker’s two-plus-year career some perspective, consider his reaction when he learned a casual meeting with Julio Junes in week 3 resulted in a torn meniscus in his left knee. It would require surgery and force him to miss the next three games.

It was just a meniscus. That all ya got?!?

Hooker smiled as he recalled the latest incident in what has been a start-and-stop career with the Indianapolis Colts.

“It was ‘just’ to me because I had the ACL where I was out, man,’’ he said. “I had the hip thing coming out (of Ohio State).’’

In the violent world that is the NFL, injuries are relative.

“Most guys are probably like, ‘Aw, damn, a meniscus,’’ Hooker said. “That’s a big deal to most people. When you have stuff like an ACL, this is like a slap on the wrist.

“When they told me (meniscus), I was like, ‘Oh, OK. How many weeks we talking?’ I was nervous at first. I thought I was going to be out some months. They said 4-6 weeks and I was like, ‘That’s it? OK. I can do this.’’’

That’s because Hooker has had to deal with so much – in some cases so much worse – in such a short period of time.

He’ll return from his most recent malady Sunday when the Denver Broncos visit Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s the latest injury hurdle he’s cleared.

Hooker was an early-entrant in the 2016 NFL Draft and the Colts snatched him with the 15th overall selection even though he still was recovering from hip surgery that would sideline him for all of the offseason and most of preseason.

Then, seven games into his rookie season, Hooker suffered tears to the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee when he was whacked from the side by Jacksonville wideout Keelan Cole while pursing Allen Hurns.

“Freak injury,’’ he said, shaking his head.

A hip issue kept him out of two games last season while a foot injury forced him to miss the second-round playoff loss at Kansas City.

Then, in week 3 with Atlanta in town, more freakish stuff. While converging on Jones and teammate Pierre Desir at the end of Jones’ 34-yard reception, Hooker damaged the meniscus in his left knee.

“Julio fell onto my knees,’’ he said. “Freak accident. I thought I was fine.’’

He temporarily left the game, but returned. He was confident he wouldn’t miss any time.

“The ACL happened,’’ Hooker said, “and my mind was in shambles. This one, I was cool and calm the whole process. I handled it well. I rehabbed hard, and I’m back earlier than what was expected.’’

It’s not as if Hooker’s body isn’t built to take the punishment. He’s an imposing 6-1, 214 pounds. He’s not fine china.

“It’s not like I got hit and . . .,’’ he said, his voice trailing off in frustration. “All my stuff has been freak accidents, people falling into my legs.

“It was frustrating at first, being young and having to deal with it.’’

Before the hip surgery after his final season at Ohio State, Hooker was health personified.

“My first surgery was when I came out (of school),’’ he said. “The hip.’’

One of the critical transitions to the NFL was learning how to deal with the occasional setbacks, the injuries, the rehabs.

Hooker has tapped into the resources around him. He talks with veteran teammates, including Clayton Geathers and ex-teammate Robert Mathis. When the Houston Texans visited Sunday, he sought out former teammate Mike Adams.

“Malik is maturing,’’ said position coach Alan Williams. “What I mean by that is I think a year ago, two years ago, that derailed him a little bit when he got injured. Now, I think he is mature, and he sees that injuries can be a part of the NFL and how other guys have dealt with it – how Clayton has dealt with it. We have guys in the room that set a good example.

“I am proud of the way he has dealt with this last one. He has probably come back quicker than the doctors even said that he should have.’’

Hooker was back on the practice field less than a month after the knee procedure; he was limited in last Thursday’s practice and a full-go Friday. He gauged himself to be about 90% at the end of last week, and even though he believed he was ready to return, the team kept him down.

“I’d have played last week if they had allowed me to,’’ he said. “Just being smart, cautious.’’

Now, it’s time to get back to work. It’s time to put the injuries and the growing reputation of being injury-prone behind him.

“Shoot, it is what it is,’’ Hooker said of the injury-prone tag. “I guess you could say that because I’ve been banged up the last three years. But it ain’t on my mind. It’s football. It’s a physical sport.’’

Coordinator Matt Eberflus took it up several notches.

“It is a violent game,’’ he said. “People are going to get hurt. If you think that’s not going to happen, you’re fooling yourself. That’s all part of the game.’’

The Colts are six games into their season and already several prominent players have missed at least one game with an injury: Hooker, Geathers, T.Y. Hilton, Darius Leonard, Jabaal Sheard, Kenny Moore II, Devin Funchess, Kemoko Turay, Parris Campbell, Tyquan Lewis.

“You just have to take the daily approach of control what you can control,’’ Hooker said. “You never know when the time comes and you’re injured or banged up of whatever it may be. You work to get better every day.

“The ACL and the hip, those were difficult times for me. Now, it’s just control what you can control. When something happens, get into rehab hard, get back and pick up right back where you left off.’’

When healthy, Hooker has been a difference-maker. He had three interceptions before the season-ending knee injury as a rookie, two more last season when he still was getting back in shape post-ACL, and he had that nifty one-handed interception of Philip Rivers in the season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I know what I can do when I’m out there,’’ he said. “You’ve seen it.’’

He’s that rangy centerfielder who’s capable of making quarterbacks pay for mistakes. Rivers saw Hooker before delivering the end-zone pass in the opener, but didn’t believe Hooker could get there in time to make the play.

“Just the range and the ball skills,’’ Williams said of Hooker’s key attributes. “This is the best we’ve all seen him look. We’re excited to get him back.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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