Hooker Positioned to Do, Say More in 2021

Third-year safety almost certainly will be a starter and he already has started to act like one.
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Restructuring the secondary presented Tennessee Titans safety Amani Hooker an opportunity that did not exist during his first two NFL seasons.

After Tennessee parted ways with Kenny Vaccaro in March, it was assumed that Hooker, who played in 41.8 percent of the defensive snaps last season, was set to be a starter next to long-time veteran Kevin Byard. Now, Hooker is using the Titans’ OTAs to assert himself into a leadership role, as preparations for the fall continue in Nashville.

“Guys from last year are missing or are gone,” Hooker said on Thursday. “I am coming in and making sure I’m helping lead guys. And you know guys that haven’t been here before, making sure they know how we practice, and how we lead, and how we move about things.”

Hooker comes into the 2021 NFL season after he tied for the team lead with four interceptions in 2020. Cornerback Malcolm Butler, who also was released during the offseason, also had four for a defense that ranked 29th in passing yards allowed at 277.4 but ranked among the top 10 with 15 interceptions.

Last season’s struggles on defense have all been well-documented, and as Hooker enters his third season, he hopes his time at OTAs helps straighten things out once the games count.

“OTAs are an opportunity for guys to step in,” Hooker said. “Right now, guys are learning the playbook, learning the details and techniques, and just trying to improve as a whole secondary.”

Hooker understands the importance of getting on the same page with the younger guys in the secondary. OTAs grant him the chance to be around the team, younger guys, and the coaches. Those listed reasons are why Hooker felt he needed to attend the optional offseason practices, he said.

“We have a lot of new guys coming in,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that I was here around the coaching staff and around all the players. For me I just like being here. I like being around the guys, and I like being around my teammates.”

His increased responsibilities this year no doubt influenced Hooker’s decision to compete in optional practices this offseason. However, with nothing ever guaranteed in the NFL, he asserts that the only thing he is focused on right now is getting better on the field.

“I gotta come in and make sure I am doing my stuff on my end,” he said. “For me, it was just come in and improve as a player and just keep getting better.”

Hooker may say his attendance at OTAs was purely to get better as a player, but it’s hard to ignore that with Vaccaro gone, the Titans needed someone who can step up and be a leader in the secondary.

And to the benefit of the Titans, who better fits the role of a leader in this secondary than the now three-year veteran in Hooker, who was a pupil of Vaccaro’s within the secondary for two years?

“It sucked seeing Kenny leave, I’ve been with him since my rookie year. He was a great mentor. He taught me a lot of stuff as far as coverage, blitzes, and run game,” Hooker said. “When he was here, I was coming in and competing. Now that he’s gone my competing doesn’t stop.”

His drive to compete can’t stop. Hooker’s play on the field is an example for all the younger players within the Titans secondary on what things look like when playing for Tennessee. The good news is, he seems to know that.

“I have been here for two years, going on my third year so I know what the coaches are looking for. I have a good feel for the techniques they are asking for,” he said. “For me, a guy that’s been here for a while, it’s just making sure the guys that haven’t been here can learn those things that help them, and teach them stuff that Kenny taught me or KB taught me when I was coming in.”

He may not officially be a starting safety on the Titans, just yet, but it looks like Hooker has taken the approach that there is no one ahead of him.