Malik Hooker 8.jpg (copy)

Colts safety Malik Hooker cuts toward the play Aug. 3 during training camp at Grand Park in Westfield.

INDIANAPOLIS — Malik Hooker knows what real pain feels like.

The Indianapolis Colts safety knew immediately he was in trouble when he tore both ligaments in his knee as a rookie in 2017. And he feared the worst last year when a foot injury kept him out of the playoff loss at Kansas City.

But the torn meniscus he suffered Sept. 22 against the Atlanta Falcons initially didn’t bother him. Hooker pleaded with anyone in the locker room — director of player development David Thornton, trainers, injured teammates — to allow him to go back in the game.

Eventually, it was determined he could do no further damage to his knee, and he returned to aid the Colts’ 27-24 victory.

A day later, the knee was still a little stiff, and he learned he’d be out four-to-six weeks.

“So I was like, ‘OK, that sucks, too. But it’ll have to do for now,’” Hooker said Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “We got the bye week, so hopefully I’ll only miss two games. Which is, hopefully, what it’s looking like.”

Hooker didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice, but head coach Frank Reich said the plan is to get the third-year safety back on the field Thursday. If things go well the rest of the week, Hooker could play Sunday against the Houston Texans.

The Week 7 contest carries big implications for the AFC South race, with the winner taking control of the division at the midway point.

Hooker’s presence would be welcome against an offense led by duel-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson and big-play wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills.

But there are still 11 games remaining in the season, and there will be no effort to force Hooker back into the lineup.

“I’m feeling real good right now in the process,” Hooker said. “I’m on the front end of my rehabbing process. Recovery back from the surgery has been tremendous. I’m moving fine. I’m doing drills and everything fine. But it’s more so, we’re still early on in the season.

“I’m very far ahead of what they expected me to be. I don’t want to push anything. They don’t want to push me or force me to go out there if I’m not ready. It’s just moreso an understanding thing, just trying to ease my way back into it.”

The play of the Colts’ secondary in a 19-13 win at Kansas City on Oct. 6 helps give Hooker peace of mind.

Rookie Khari Willis and second-year safety George Odum played well in place of Hooker and fellow safety Clayton Geathers, who also could return Sunday after missing one game with a concussion.

Not that it came as a surprise to the locker room.

Hooker watched the way the youngsters worked through OTAs and training camp and the way they handled the practice week leading up to the Chiefs. He was impressed with the duo’s maturity and professionalism.

And that bled onto the field.

“They’re both great guys outside of football,” Hooker said. “Once you get a great guy who’s willing to learn and take criticism and coaching, stuff like (the Chiefs) week is something that you’re not surprised about. They’re both athletic and great players. These two guys, I mean, on 32 teams in the NFL, they’d have a very high chance of playing and starting.”

So Hooker’s fine being patient.

If playing Sunday is the right choice, he’ll happily suit up. If not, he’s still ahead of schedule and working with a long-term view.

“We’ve still got 11 more games throughout the season,” Hooker said. “That’s more important for me, the long run, this long run that we’re about to go on as a team and as a defense. That’s where I feel like I’ll be needed more.”

BENEFIT OF THE BYE

Last week’s idle weekend allowed the Colts to watch Houston’s 31-24 victory against the Chiefs and get a preview of what to expect Sunday.

Reich was duly impressed with what he saw from the Texans and red-hot Watson.

“I just think he is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL,” Reich said. “You see a very well-balanced team. They can run it. They can throw it. They make big plays. He makes good decisions, he gets you out of bad plays (and) he plays smart. They’re a top-five rushing team. We’re a top-five (rushing team). We’ve talked a lot about that. This is a good matchup.”

PRACTICE REPORT

Once again, Indianapolis is poised to spend the week watching the progress of some key defensive backs.

Starting corners Pierre Desir (hamstring) and Kenny Moore II (knee) did not participate Wednesday. Both players were sidelined for a portion of the first half against Kansas City two weeks ago but returned to finish the game.

Rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell (abdominal), Hooker and defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis (ankle) also did not participate.

Linebacker Zaire Franklin (hamstring) and Geathers (rest) were limited participants.

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