Hooker Makes Most of Limited Opportunities

Second-year safety leads the Titans in interceptions despite playing as a backup.
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Amani Hooker was not just killing time while he waited for his first NFL start.

The Tennessee Titans’ second-year safety did what he could to get better so he could the best of the moment when it arrived, which it did two weeks ago.

“He's one of those players that has continued to improve and has earned the right to play some,” Vrabel said of Hooker on Wednesday. “That's a testament to him as he continued to develop. That's the hope there that you continue to improve as you work your way through this league.”

The second-year safety has played in all 11 games this season and all 16 as a rookie in 2019. He finally made his first career start in the Week 11 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, when Kenny Vaccaro was sidelined with a concussion.

Playing 98 percent of defensive snaps in that game, Hooker made several crucial plays, including an interception in the third quarter, which led to the offense cashing in for a field goal on the ensuing possession. He also had two passes defended and made six tackles, one short of his career-high.

“I'm sure he’d like to have a couple tackles back, but I think he continues to work and has been here and he plays on third down for us when (Vaccaro) wasn't able to go,” Vrabel said. “(Hooker) stepped in there and did some really good things.”

Despite his limited role, Hooker has a team-high three interceptions this season and his seven passes defended rank third. He also is among the Titans’ top 10 in tackles with 24.

“He’s a smart kid,” Shane Bowen, the outside linebacker and defensive signal-caller said. “He gets lined up in the right places. I think he’s got pretty good instincts, being able to kind of feel things out. He’s got good ball skills. So, I think it’s like a combination of things.”

Vaccaro returned to the starting lineup last Sunday at Indianapolis, but the Titans still found ways to get Hooker on the field. He played nearly 40 percent of defensive snaps and knocked away one pass.

A fourth-round selection in 2019, Hooker was credited with 13 tackles as a rookie but did not have an interception or a pass defensed. Ever since, he has moved in the right direction, which is why the Titans plan to keep him around for a while.

“He’s done a good job stepping in for us when his opportunities have been there,” Bowen said. “He’s showed up when we needed him to show up.”