Take a look at the burning questions at each position as the Indianapolis Colts set to report to training camp July 28 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. We continue today with the safeties.
INDIANAPOLIS - With the month of July upon us, and the start of training camp now within sight, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the safety position:
» Now in a contract year, how can Malik Hooker reach his full potential?
Selected by the Colts with the 15th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Malik Hooker has certainly showed flashes of his potential to be a top playmaker from the free safety position. In 34 games with 33 starts over his first three NFL seasons, he has 117 total tackles (one for a loss) with seven interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. While he's had his share of injuries - most notably, a torn ACL and MCL that limited him to just seven games his rookie year - the Colts' defense could really be next-level good if Hooker was able to put it all together in 2020, which will be a contract year for the safety after the team decided not to pick up his fifth-year option back in May.
------ » What's the next step for Khari Willis after a solid rookie season?
It didn't take long for Willis to become the Colts' starting strong safety as a rookie in 2019; he earned his first-career start Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders, and would start eight of the next 10 games in which he appeared the rest of the season. Willis earned Pro Football Focus' No. 4 grade among rookie safeties and was its 26th-ranked rookie overall, finishing with 71 tackles (two for a loss) with one pass breakup and one quarterback hit. Able to line up everywhere for coordinator Matt Eberflus' defense, Willis could make a huge jump forward in Year 2 in 2020. "He's legitimate," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said of Willis. "And he's made of all the right stuff: works, tough, plays through injury. And he's going to be a legitimate safety in this league, and for us."
------ » When will Julian Blackmon get into the mix, and what will his role be?
After a decorated career at Utah - where he played at cornerback before moving to safety his final season - Blackmon would suffer a torn ACL late in the 2019 season. Despite the fact he'd be working his way back from knee surgery throughout the offseason and into training camp, the Colts were clearly impressed enough to take a chance on Blackmon's talents, picking him up in the third round of this year's NFL Draft. Ballard said the Colts are targeting October for a potential return date for Blackmon; once he is in the mix, however, what will his role be? The team returns both its starters in Hooker and Willis, but all indications are Blackmon's versatility should allow him to be involved in multiple defensive packages. A more-than willing tackler, Blackmon projects well out in open space against anybody that comes his way, but he also has the cover skills if thrust into more of a nickel cornerback or dime linebacker role.