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If I Could Change One Thing about the Colts' Season, Malik Hooker Never Gets Hurt

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In a season full of issues, the biggest thing that I would change about the Colts’ 2017 season is Malik Hooker getting hurt.

AJ Mast / AP

There are endless things that Indianapolis Colts fans could want to change about their team’s abysmal season. The Colts currently sit at 3-11, and there is a very real chance that they finish 3-13.

For me, if I could change one thing about the Colts’ season, it would be that rookie safety Malik Hooker never suffered his season-ending ACL injury. Considering the colossal issues that face the Colts, the issue I picked may seem minuscule, but I’m looking at the bigger picture. Hear me out.

Chuck Pagano

Probably the first thing you could look at would be head coach Chuck Pagano getting fired before the season rather than here in a couple of weeks, after the season. We’ve known for a couple of years that Pagano likely isn’t the sharpest coach and that his success has been skewed by having a quarterback like Andrew Luck. However, what could it hurt by seeing how things might be different for one season separated from former general manager Ryan Grigson?

Also, when you consider that the Colts didn’t hire new GM Chris Ballard until the end of this January and head coaching searches typically get underway at the beginning of the month, Ballard would have been an entire month behind in his search for a new coach and would not have had the same opportunities as other teams looking for their coaching lead.

As this season has progressed, the coaching has been predictably poor. We’ve seen all of the old Pagano staples such as game-planning for opponents not being a thing, the team not performing well for an entire game, lack of communication and understanding between players, late-game coaching gaffes, poor clock management, lack of player development, etc.

Here in a couple of weeks, it’s time to pull the plug.

Andrew Luck

Then, you’ve got Luck and his recovery from shoulder surgery. While he had surgery in mid-January, his recovery time was expected to take anywhere from 6-9 months. Many thought that he would be ready to participate in training camp before it ended in August. While Ballard painted an optimistic picture but asked us all for tempered, realistic expectations about Luck’s return, owner Jim Irsay had more definitive (and sometimes controversial) things to say on the topic. And then there was Pagano, who just played dumb the whole time.

Luck began privately throwing with the Colts’ training staff late in camp, and the general assumption was that he would return to the playing field sometime within the first month-and-a-half of the season. However, once Luck joined his teammates at practice, he experienced pain and discomfort in his surgically-repaired right throwing shoulder. Eventually, the Colts placed Luck on season-ending Injured Reserve. We’ve recently found out that Luck has spent roughly the last month in Europe receiving treatment.

Luck’s absence has obviously shaped the Colts’ season, but do we really want to keep seeing a team that wins just because of Luck and isn’t a complete unit around him? Good teams can win despite their quarterback having a bad game, and the Colts aren’t to that point yet.

Playing Time for Young Players

Moving to less significant topics, the Colts have also had issues in regards to playing time for their younger players, particularly rookies Marlon Mack and Quincy Wilson. There have been other young players that we need to see play more, such as Grover Stewart, Anthony Walker and Tarell Basham, but they had been rightfully down on their positional depth chart because of quality veterans ahead of them. Mack and Wilson are a different story.

Mack joined the Colts as a raw, yet immensely talented running back. His college system was far from that of a pro style, so it was going to take him time to learn things like pass protection and consistently running between the tackles. However, the Colts have hitched their wagon to 34-year-old Frank Gore again, riding him as much as possible because they love the guy and feel like they owe him the world.

Here’s the thing: Mack is likely going to be in Indianapolis for the long haul and still has things to learn, and in-game reps are the best way for him to get where he needs to be. Gore is about to be a free agent, and at his age is likely not going to be back with the Colts. If he is, it almost certainly won’t be for any more than a year.

Wilson’s situation is more bizarre. He didn’t play much at all in Week 1, but then started against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. He showed a ton of promise. However, we didn’t see him on the field again for almost three months, in Week 13. The reasons that were given were inconsistent, to say the least. The Colts said that Wilson had a knee issue that he was dealing with, which caused him to miss time. They also said that he had to “earn it” on the practice field. It was also said that he needed to prove he could play special teams. Everything was all very confusing and seemed too tight-lipped.

When we saw Wilson again, he was forced into a prominent role because of injuries, and now he is starting again. Releasing Vontae Davis wasn’t enough to get Wilson on the field, but injuries to starting cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin and Pierre Desir sure did the trick.

When you’re a young team who is rebuilding, you have to see what your young players can do for you. Especially if it’s a second-round pick like Wilson who is supposed to be starting.

Hooker’s Injury

With all of that said, the big thing I’d love to be taken back is Hooker tearing his right ACL on an unnecessary hit from Jaguars rookie wide receiver Keelan Cole.

Hooker was well on his way to an outstanding rookie season, some even considering him in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He made his first career start in Week 2 and proceeded to record an interception in his first three starts. It’s exactly what the Colts selected Hooker to do for their defense. Takeaways are the type of thing that can completely turn a game around and can be the difference between a win or a loss.

Hooker is a very young player who only started for a year in his final season at Ohio State. His rookie year was supposed to be all about him growing and developing into a star, all while making opposing quarterbacks pay for errant passes. This defense is being built around young players like Henry Anderson, Johnathan Hankins, Wilson, Melvin and Hooker. The more they can play together, the better it will be for 2018 when they can hit the ground running and be a really good defense. That will have to be put on hold, at least as far as Hooker is concerned.

Cole has been able to move on and have an impressive rookie season. Hooker’s time won’t be able to be renewed until 2018.

Wrap-up

All of these frustrating factors have developed a (mostly) perfect scenario for the Colts. For the most part, they’ve been competitive. Although they are 3-11, they could just as easily be about 10-4. With the exception of a few games, they’ve been entertaining to watch.

They have their franchise quarterback in Luck returning in 2018, along with a cavalcade of nice players who are on IR with him, including Ryan Kelly, Jack Mewhort, John Simon, Anderson and Hooker.

Because of these struggles, the Colts now appear primed for a top-three draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They can either use that top pick on a potentially elite player, or they can trade back and gather incredibly valuable draft capital. For a scouting department led by Ballard, nothing could be more valuable than a bunch of draft picks in the right hands.

This hasn’t been an easy season to stomach for Colts fans. In 2011, we saw 2-14, but it brought Luck to Indianapolis. We’ve experienced back-to-back 8-8 seasons in 2015 and 2016, and now a probable 3-13 or 4-12 season in 2017. It may sound odd, but being this far below .500 is better than being 7-9 or 8-8. It’s the difference of about 10-15 draft slots.

These hard times can bring excellent results on the other side of the hill; just stick with them.

Poll

What’s the biggest thing you would change about the Colts’ 2017 season?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Chuck Pagano fired before the season
    (147 votes)
  • 42%
    Andrew Luck returns "on schedule"
    (285 votes)
  • 2%
    Jim Irsay’s comments and expectations
    (16 votes)
  • 19%
    Malik Hooker tears his ACL
    (132 votes)
  • 12%
    Young players get to play more
    (82 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (leave in the comments!)
    (2 votes)
664 votes total Vote Now