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Tale of the Tape: Colts Rookie Safety Malik Hooker

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

No draft pick since Andrew Luck has been as exciting as Malik Hooker for the Colts. He was viewed as a steal when he fell to them at pick 15 for those of us who have long wanted to see a safety who can lock down the back end of the defense and be an opportunistic ball hawk. That is exactly the potential that Hooker affords, but like any rookie, he is going to have to develop.

There will be plenty of chance to do that, and he’ll get the opportunity to learn on the field because the Colts need him to have an impact sooner rather than later. The lackluster defense, as well as a rash of injuries, has forced him into a critical role right from the jump. Let’s take a look at some of Hooker’s snaps from week one and see how he looks, as well as if we can get any indication of what he could be.


On this first play, we see Hooker in as the deep safety on 2nd and 10 from the Colts 39. You can see Hooker has his eyes in the backfield and begins moving in the direction of the ball even before Goff releases it. Goff hits Watkins on about a 6-yard curl and Melvin does a good job stopping him, but it is nice to see Hooker come up and finish the play, as well as how quickly he closes the distance.


Here it is 2nd and 7, the Rams run Gurley up the middle and fake the end around to Tavon Austin. Given what Austin did to them back in 2013 and his big play ability, it isn’t surprising to see Hooker bite on that fake. He quickly gets back in position but the front 7 does a good job shutting down Gurley before he really gets going.


On another 2nd and 10, the Rams actually run the end around with Tavon Austin. Here there is a bit of disappointment on the part of two rookies to be seen. First, Tarell Basham gets into the backfield virtually untouched but fails to contain Austin and push him back inside, completely whiffing on a tackle. Then, Hooker gets steamrolled by Tyler Higbee and is completely taken out of the play. You can also see Rashaan Melvin being held toward the end of the play. Not a great play, and it resulted in a 9-yard gain.


This play is a good example of the fact that our safeties simply need more time and experience on the field, even Butler, who is still new to the position. Both have their eyes in the backfield and are backpedaling looking for the possible play action. However, neither guy is really flowing to the ball as quickly as you would like to see.

When offensive lines are in pass protection, they are not trying to push forward and be the aggressors. Their job is to create a wall that pushes defenders to the outside and gives the quarterback a pocket to throw from. So when you see linemen moving downfield to put a hit on a linebacker, it is a solid hint that you’re dealing with a run.

If you watch the Rams LG Roger Saffold, #76, you’ll see that he is 5 yards downfield before Hooker identifies the run and begins moving forward. That instinctive play and knowing what to look for takes time, and mistakes are to be expected with a guy who has so little experience at the position.


This play is on 1st and 10 and results in a 24-yard gain for Sammy Watkins. It seems like there was a lot of miscommunication on the play because none of the linebackers cover Gurley, so when he releases into the flat, Melvin is looking at him and lets Watkins go. Because of how deep the safeties are playing, once Watkins is free, he has a 15-yard buffer between him and Hooker. He is a good five yards open when he makes the catch. That is not acceptable for an NFL secondary. Bad communication and soft coverage from the safeties resulted in a big play. While this defense does a much better job of swarming to the ball, and Hooker makes the tackle, they have got to communicate better and know their responsibilities.


Busted coverage touchdowns aren’t pretty, and this is not the exception. Cooper Kupp just runs a skinny post and outclasses T.J. Green who is standing flatfooted and doesn’t really start moving until Kupp is right on top of him. Then there’s Darius Butler who seems to get too zoned in watching Goff to realize he’s letting Kupp get behind him. By the time he realizes what’s happened it is too late.

What I found interesting here was that even though Hooker’s responsibility is to the other side of the field, his eyes are in the backfield the whole time as well, and because of his read of the play and good closing speed, he is actually closer to making a play on the ball than Butler is despite starting all the way across the field. It is small consolation for a touchdown allowed, but those skills are the kind that will make him a valuable part of the team when the ball is thrown to his side of the field.

The general idea surrounding Malik Hooker coming out was that he was a ball-hawking safety who couldn’t lay a big hit on guys and who shrank from contact. That just isn’t true, and here is the evidence. On this play, Sammy Watkins runs a shallow dig route and completely leaves Melvin behind. It makes for an easy throw, and then Watkins changes direction and because he has been running so hard to make up ground, Melvin blows by him.

Fortunately, Hooker is there to make the tackle and does it well. He consistently gets himself in the right place. The biggest area he needs to improve is indecisiveness so that he is making decisions more quickly and putting himself in a position to break up passes and create turnovers. That is not surprising and likely something that will improve with time. On a side note, I am not sure how Nate Hairston did not get a penalty for essentially getting a piggyback ride with Robert Woods.

Here is another example of Hooker stepping up and making a solid open-field tackle, albeit this time an assisted one. Goff dumps off a short pass to Todd Gurley, who runs up the middle and breaks Antonio Morrison and Tarell Basham’s feeble attempt at tackling him. Hooker moves to the play quickly and breaks his feet down so he can make a solid open field tackle. He wraps Gurley’s legs and lets Farley put the big hit on him.

The Colts nearly always find themselves lacking in guys on the defensive side of the ball who are solid tacklers. So far it looks like we can count Hooker among the kind of defenders that the Colts desperately need in that regard.


There are a lot of positives from Hooker’s film. He moves toward the ball and makes good, solid tackles. His ability to cover a lot of ground quickly is critical to a good safety, and he does it consistently well. It doesn’t take long to see that this is a guy who always keeps his eyes in the backfield and has good instincts.

The main thing that is holding Hooker back is simply his lack of experience at the position. While he does a lot of things right, his tentative play and being a bit slow to identify cues and respond to them are things that come with time and learning. If he is still doing some of those same things at the end of the season, there will be room for concern, but the raw potential is there.