Colts’ Malik Hooker searching for more Philip Rivers-like highlights in contract year

Indianapolis Colts

CARSON, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 08: Malik Hooker #29 of the Indianapolis Colts intercepts a pass intended for Keenan Allen #13 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of a game at Dignity Health Sports Park on September 08, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Before diving headlong into training camp and whatever the coming months would hold, there was a team meeting that involved a highlight video of 2019.

One snippet was from week 1 and reminded everyone of Malik Hooker’s ridiculous range. With the Los Angeles Chargers looking to clinch the opening-day win over the Indianapolis Colts – up 24-16, 8-plus minutes to play, second-and-goal at the Colts’ 7-yard line – Keenan Allen settled into an open spot in the end zone.

Philip Rivers’ eyes undoubtedly widened. He cocked his arm, delivered a spiral.

“I thought it was a touchdown,” Philip Rivers said on a Wednesday Zoom conference call.

Instead, it was a Hooker interception. It was a one-handed pick that makes every highlight video.

After the game, Rivers admitted he saw Hooker lurking to Allen’s left.

“I didn’t think he could get there,” he shrugged at the time.

Hooker did, and there he was again during the team meeting, turning a Rivers’ TD into a Rivers’ interception.

Consider it a likely starting point when Hooker first passed Rivers in the locker room.

“We definitely talked about it a little bit,’’ Hooker said with a smile. “First day we came in we had a team meeting and they showed it on the highlight tape.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, I see they’re still showing the highlight you had from week 1.’ We just laughed about it. It’s great to have a guy like that on our team now.”

Eleven months later, the play remains fresh in Rivers’ mind.

“It was a heckuva play. It was an awesome play,” he said. “I remember it very clearly. I didn’t need to see it again.”

The Colts, however, need to see more of them, and that would be beneficial to Hooker as well.

In something of an offseason surprise, the team decided not to exercise the fifth-year option on Hooker’s rookie contract. The 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft – Hooker is the only safety taken in the first round by the Colts in franchise history – will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Hooker wouldn’t describe his reaction to the news as a disappointment.

“It was more so a motivational call for me,’’ he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and prove myself.”

Ideally, that manifests itself in Hooker staying on the field and generating more of those highlight-type plays. He has produced seven interceptions in three seasons, but also has missed 15 games with a variety of injuries.

Those injuries were contributing factors in the team’s decision not to pick up Hooker’s option. He tore two ligaments in his right knee against Jacksonville that forced him to miss the final nine games of his rookie season and was out three games last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. In ’18, he dealt with a hip issue, and a foot injury kept him out of the AFC Divisional loss at Kansas City.

Now, Hooker gives himself a clean bill of health.

“I’m fully healthy, doing full workouts,” he said. “It’s my first healthy offseason. It feels great. I’m moving fine. I’m up to tempo with the plays.

“I can’t complain.”

Neither can the Colts.

The team has been in full pads for just three days, but Hooker already has made an impression. When Frank Reich was sharing practice video with the team after Tuesday’s work, everyone got an eyeful of Hooker’s skillset.

“I showed a play to the team that Malik made,” Reich said. “Really, really good PBU (pass broken up) he had yesterday on the practice field. When I was in the quarterback room both Jacoby and Philip were like, ‘Wow, that was a big-time PBU right there.’

“Malik’s really looked good. Physically he looks good, making plays in practice. Feel great where he’s at right now.”

Given his druthers, and Hooker would rather stay put at season’s end.

“That’s definitely the plan,” he said. “Obviously I love Indianapolis. It’s like home for me now. I’ve been here for four years. The city’s great. Obviously the organization’s great.”

A long-term contract – either from the Colts or another team – undoubtedly will provide him with long-term financial security. A deal as a top-10 player at his position starts at $11-12 million per year.

Again, a new deal from the Colts requires health, production and consistency. Hooker gave himself a “B-plus” on last year’s performance.

It’s easy to dismiss him as a player that can be replaced. The Colts selected Khari Willis in the fourth round of the 2019 draft and he quickly established himself as a defensive mainstay. In April, they used their third-round pick – 85th overall – on Julian Blackmon.

Hooker, though, has special qualities. He’s 6-1 and 214 pounds, and has that uncanny range in centerfield. And let’s not forget, even though he’s entering his fourth season, he just turned 24 in April.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

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