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Colts first-rounder Malik Hooker heads into season playing catch-up

Mike Wells: It seemed a foregone conclusion that safety Malik Hooker would be the Week 1 starter after the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the No. 15 pick in April's draft. He was expected to step in and immediately show why he returned three of his seven interceptions for touchdowns last season at Ohio State.

It turns out that’s not the case.

Hooker got off to a slow start when he missed offseason workouts while recovering from surgery last winter. Then he dealt with a groin injury at the start of training camp, followed by a shoulder injury. Hooker ended up playing in only one preseason game and was in and out of practice throughout training camp. He was even wearing a red, non-contact jersey during practice earlier this week.

"I’m just glad he’s out here running around. It’s a precaution," coach Chuck Pagano said. "Like the quarterbacks, stay away from this dude.”

The other reason there’s no guarantee Hooker will start against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 is because Matthias Farley, who is currently working with Darius Butler at safety, didn’t do anything to relinquish that starting spot during the preseason and training camp. It looked as though Farley would hold down the job until Hooker was ready to take it from him; instead, Farley was steady back there throughout the preseason, and there's a chance he'll be keeping the job for the timing being.

Hooker is definitely in catch-up mode when it comes to picking up the Colts defense and eventually starting in the secondary. He’s the third key defensive back who has dealt with injuries. Safety Clayton Geathers will start the season on the physically unable to perform list while dealing with a neck injury, and starting cornerback Vontae Davis out with a hamstring injury.