INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts starting safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers waited anxiously for months to get back to work.
They agonizingly watched teammates run around as they learned the new defense. They were limited to sideline duty when the practice pace picked up at June’s three-day minicamp. And they were still out when training camp opened.
Now both have returned from knee surgery, eager to show the coaches just what they can do.
“It’s been rough, but I try to get those thoughts out of my head and just keep going and try to help this team win,” Geathers said Friday. “That was my goal coming in as a rookie and then one thing led to another. So I’m just trying to get back and get right.”
While things haven’t gone quite as smoothly as they’d hoped, at least they’ve been activated from the physically unable to perform list. Both are able to participate in position and individual drills and believe they’ll soon be in 11-on-11 team work after a long, circuitous road back.
For Geathers, it’s been one obstacle after another.
He showed promise as a rookie, making two starts and getting 31 tackles after the Colts selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. Chuck Pagano’s staff figured the next NFL prospect from the Geathers’ family tree was perfectly suited as a hybrid safety/linebacker at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds.
Instead, Geathers missed seven games in 2016 with an assortment of injuries, including a concussion that put him on the season-ending injured reserve list in mid-December.
Then Geathers needed offseason neck surgery, sat out until Week 11 and wound up making eight tackles while playing five of the Colts’ last six games. He spent the offseason again recovering from surgery, this time on his knee.
“I went and got the procedure and one thing led to another and now we are here,” he said. “We are off PUP and now we are back getting acclimated.”
Hooker has a playmaking pedigree.
As a senior at Ohio State, he finished third in FBS with seven interceptions and led the nation by returning three for touchdowns. The Colts liked him so much they couldn’t wait to take him with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2017 draft, prompting then-coach Pagano to draw a quick comparison with one of his former star pupils, Ed Reed.
Indy took a cautious approach with Hooker in training camp as he recovered from shoulder and sports hernia surgeries, but Hooker injured his hamstring at his first practice.
Once he finally got healthy, Hooker performed precisely as the Colts expected. He picked off passes in each of his first three starts, tying Eugene Daniels’ Indianapolis era record for most consecutive games with an interception by a rookie.
But seven games into the season, Hooker tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee, requiring surgery that kept him off the field until Thursday.
“The ACL injury is a difficult injury to recover from, but I think and the coaching staff thinks that I’m doing a great job of recovering from that and just getting back out there, not thinking twice about cutting, moving and things like that,” Hooker said.
New coach Frank Reich hasn’t provided a timetable for either to return to full action though the hope is both will be ready for the Sept. 9 season opener against Cincinnati.
Oddly enough, the starting safety duo has yet to work side by side, at practice or in a game, a streak likely to remain intact when the Colts open the preseason Thursday night at Seattle.
Still, the Colts think they have quite the combination.
“Just their physical presence — I’m standing over there and you look over there — I’m just telling you as a quarterback you notice it,” Reich said. “It’s a physical presence. You also know as a quarterback when you are playing a safety who has that knack to have ball production. You know guys like Earl Thomas. When you are a quarterback, you know ‘I can’t make a mistake’ and any little mistake is going to be amplified when you’ve got a playmaker like that (Hooker).”
NOTES: Andrew Luck took another big step during Sunday morning’s practice with a touchdown pass as time ran out in the two-minute drill. Under duress, Luck scrambled to his left and threw the ball 45 yards against his body while on the move. “That’s a tough throw to make, so that’s definitely checking something off,” Reich said. ... Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Denzelle Good, who is competing to start at right tackle, both sat out with hamstring injuries. Reich said Castonzo will miss “some time” after reinjuring the hamstring that initially put him on the non-football injury list. Castonzo was activated Wednesday. He was hurt in Friday night’s practice.