clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Malik Hooker is key to the new look Colts defense

New, comments

Which new Colts player has impressed you most after four weeks?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts defense has been a weakness since franchise quarterback Andrew Luck entered the league in 2012.

The team has long struggled to generate a pass rush. New General Manager Chris Ballard took steps in the right direction to help generate additional pressure by adding free agent additions John Simon and Jabaal Sheard. There is a very strong argument that could be made for either of the Colts new outside linebackers being the best newcomer to the Colts defense.

Additionally, the team has long struggled against the run. So, GM Chris Ballard added players like Al Woods and Johnathan Hankins. Both of these players have made it very difficult for teams who try to run the football inside the tackles. There is no question that Woods and Hankins have played a big role in what has been a much bigger Colts defensive resurgence than what season stats, or wins and losses, will indicate through the first four games of the 2017 season.

Yet, somehow, there is something even more important to the team’s short- and long-term plans, and its defensive identity, that comes from the play of rookie 2017 first-round draft pick Malik Hooker.

In 2016, Indianapolis had a turnover ratio of -5. The entire secondary produced 7 interceptions with linebacker Akeem Ayers adding an eighth. This year the turnover ratio is 0 through four games — and that includes unforced errors by backup quarterbacks — and the secondary has produced six interceptions.

Hooker is responsible for three of the six. He is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions through the first four games.

He is a rookie.

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He certainly is not a complete player yet. He still needs to improve his tackling. He still is not excited about the prospect of laying a big hit. Hooker has made some mistakes in coverage and even allowed a tight end to beat him for a big play against the Browns, something that should never happen. He also has been out of position on some plays and needs to continue getting better.

The young man still is very raw, still new to the NFL game.

But if you are willing to recognize these things, you also have to recognize the significance of what that might represent for his future.

No one expects Hooker to keep up with his current pace on interceptions. If he does, he will finish the regular season with 12. That would be a ridiculous number for any rookie defensive back. He doesn’t have to do that to have a solid rookie season.

Veteran defensive back Darius Butler finished the 2016 season with 3 interceptions. Anywhere Hooker goes from here builds upon that number.

Also, if we are willing to recognize that he is sometimes out of position and still is raw, it means that we also should recognize that his familiarity with the Colts defense will only improve. His tendency to make mistakes should only get better. Maybe with additional strength and conditioning he will even be more comfortable putting a hit on a guy once in awhile.

The idea that Hooker will be able to make plays on even more passes than he does now is exciting. The idea that he still is in way over his head brings the prospects of something so much bigger. Imagine what he could be in the last quarter of this season. What could he be in a year?

There are a lot of arguments that could be made for other Colts newcomers. But I will tell you now that the more Malik Hooker makes plays on the back-end and punishes opposing quarterbacks who are trying to get the ball downfield, the more he causes them to hesitate and try to extend the play just a little longer before they throw the football, the more Colts pass rushers like Jabaal Sheard and John Simon will benefit.

The better the Colts secondary gets in coverage, the less the Colts defensive linemen like Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins, Henry Anderson or Hassan Ridgeway will have to slant, stunt or try to change things up and the more they can simply control the line of scrimmage.

Every piece of the defense works together and somehow, right now, no Colts newcomer is more important to the future of this new look defense in Indianapolis than rookie safety Malik Hooker.