NFL: Colts' first-rounder focused on mental game
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    NFL: Colts' first-rounder focused on mental game

    by Uplandram2 » 14 May 2017, 11:11

    INDIANAPOLIS -- Malik Hooker already has experienced his "Welcome to the NFL" moment.

    When his plane landed Thursday in Indianapolis, he thought he might be headed to a hotel to settle in less than 24 hours before the start of the Colts' rookie mini-camp. Instead, he was whisked away to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center to immediately begin his pro football orientation.

    The 21-year-old safety, drafted with the 15th overall pick last month, is just fine with the all-football-all-the-time approach. He won't be able to practice until the beginning of training camp in late July, and he has plenty to learn in the interim.

    "Right now, the playbook's my best friend," Hooker said prior to the rookies' first official practice Friday afternoon. "Studying film, watching film and just learning the playbook inside and out. What good is it if I don't know what I'm doing out there but I'm going 110 speed?"

    Indianapolis is counting on the New Castle, Pa., native to be the linchpin of a young defensive secondary. Hooker could start alongside third-year safety Clayton Geathers with fellow rookie Quincy Wilson -- the second-round pick -- at one cornerback spot.

    Second-year safety T.J. Green and fifth-round rookie cornerback Nate Hairston also figure to be in the mix.

    It's part of an overall philosophy in general manager Chris Ballard's first season to get younger and more athletic on defense. Hooker -- who had seven interceptions in his lone season as a starter at Ohio State -- embodies those traits.

    But he doesn't feel any added pressure as the de facto centerpiece of that movement.

    "They want me to go out there and just be me," Hooker said. "They didn't put too much pressure on me to go out there and do anything spectacular. Just get in the playbook and be yourself. That's why they drafted me."

    Hooker has drawn rave reviews for his raw instincts and range. He can travel the field from pylon to pylon to disrupt the passing game, and that kind of athleticism could help to cover for some early mistakes.

    Some online draft experts even project the safety as a favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

    The Colts share the enthusiasm for Hooker's ceiling. But they've largely pumped the breaks on specific expectations.

    He had surgery for a sports hernia and a torn labrum in his hip following the Buckeyes' loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals in January.

    Hooker won't take the field with his teammates at all this spring, but both he and head coach Chuck Pagano confirmed there's no reason to believe he won't be full go for training camp.

    Until then, Indianapolis is happy to allow him soak up all the knowledge he can hold.

    "I think that what we can expect mentally from Malik is to dive in with both feet and go full speed with the install and see how far he can get down the road in terms of film study and becoming a better pro," defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. "I think that once he does start to go out and compete on the field, I think that we can expect great things."

    Hooker feels like Ohio State did a good job of preparing him for the pro game.

    Co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is a former head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and many of the concepts and schemes Hooker is learning now are similar to sets he ran with the Buckeyes. The main difference is translating the verbiage from one system to the other.

    That gives Hooker comfort he'll be able to get up to speed quickly once he gets on the field. The most difficult part of this weekend for him is not being able to line up alongside his rookie classmates.

    "I'm a team player," Hooker said, "and I love making plays for my teammates."
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