Titans S Amani Hooker relishes opportunity to start, sets sights on Super Bowl LVI

The Tennessee Titans are looking forward to starting fresh on the defensive side of the ball this season. They’ve gone through a lot of changes as a unit over the past few months. The majority of that overturn occured on the backend of the defense with the subtractions of Adoree Jackson, Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro and Desmond King. Replacing them are the likes of Jackrabbit Jenkins, Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden. But the Titans aren’t just counting on new faces to improve the secondary. One player that is set to take on a bigger role this season is Amani Hooker.

Hooker, who was one of the youngest players in his draft class, just turned 23 years old. Despite his young age, Hooker is already entering his third season in the league. He surpassed expectations as a rookie that was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Hooker took another giant step forward during his sophomore campaign. Over the course of the 2020 season, he totaled 46 tackles, eight passes defended, and tied Malcolm Butler with a team-high four interceptions. The sky’s the limit for Hooker this season. Hooker will look to continue building on the momentum he established in 2020, with his eyes now set on becoming an even bigger piece of the Titans defense.

Hooker recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports about his NFL career up to this point, how he plans to take on more of a leadership role this year, his relationship with Kevin Byard, his goals for this upcoming season and so much more. Enjoy.

JM: Despite being one of the youngest players in your draft class, you made an impression and earned a role on the Titans defense right away as a rookie. What do you credit for your ability to make early contributions?

AH: I credit how I was prepared for the next level at The University of Iowa honestly. The training staff, my defensive backs coach, they all helped prepare me for what life was going to be like in the NFL. I had the right mentality going in. I knew that the faster I could learn the playbook, that would allow me to focus on the details. Those are the things that helped propel me and put me on the right track. That rings true for what I did on defense and on special teams as well.

JM: With that experience under your belt, what advice are you giving rookies like Caleb Farley, Elijah Molden and Brady Breeze who are trying to make the same impact in 2021?

AH: I’ve been telling them to get into the playbook early. The faster you can learn what you’re supposed to do, the faster you can play. That’s when the game starts to slow down for you. The faster you can play, that’s when you actually start to get comfortable on the field. That’s what allows you to make more plays.

JM: You ended up tying the team lead with four interceptions last year, which equaled your highest single season mark at Iowa. What goes into having the knack for creating turnovers?

AH: It goes back to knowing what you’re gonna do. An underrated part of it is that you have to know where your help is at all times. The best thing you can do is to play within the structure of your defense. That’s the right way to play the game. I always enjoy my time out there. As long as you’re doing all of those things, your chance is gonna come. When it does, you need to have that dog mentality to make sure you can make that big play for your team.

JM: There have been a lot of changes in the secondary. Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro and Adoree Jackson are no longer with the team. How can a young guy like yourself adjust to losing three veterans that you were so used to playing with?

AH: It’s always tough to lose great players. They did a great job teaching me and getting me ready to play. I learned a lot from those three guys right there. Kenny, Adoree, Malcolm — I have to thank all of those guys for what they did for me. They had my back. They taught me in their own ways. I have to carry that with me and teach the young guys now. I have to be that kind of communicator now. I have to pass down the things they taught me.

JM: I bet you have some great Malcolm Butler or Kenny Vaccaro stories.

AH: I definitely do. Malcolm Butler definitely comes to mind. I can’t remember what game it was, but he had messed up on this one play. He had given up a big catch or whatever. He came to the sidelines and said, “Hey Hook, I’m about to get a pick on this next possession. Watch this.” He always called me ‘Hook.’ You can probably guess what he did on the next possession (laughs). He went out there and got that pick. He jumped a route, made an interception and returned it back for a bunch of yards. It’s coming to me now, I’m pretty sure it was against the Buffalo Bills this past season. Malcolm Butler, that’s my guy for life.

JM: That’s a great story. This is obviously a big season for you. You appear set to step into an every day, every snap kind of role. How are you approaching this third season of yours?

AH: I’m taking things for what they are. I’m keeping the approach simple. For me, I want to play 1,000 snaps. That’s where my mind is at. I need to be conditioned and ready for that. I have to make sure that I’m healthy and that my body is ready to handle a heavy workload. That’s how I’ve been preparing. It starts way before the season. I’ve been getting ready. I know there’s going to be some ups and downs. As long as I stay locked in and ready to do what I do, the rest will take care of itself. I trust in my ability and my talent. I trust the process. I’m gonna go out there and make plays.

JM: We can’t wait to watch you this season. I’m going to put you in a little scenario. Let’s say it’s fourth down with the game on the line. Would you rather be manned up on the opponent’s best tight end, or playing deep and trying to make a play on anything near the sticks?

AH: I wanna be manned up on their best guy. Come on now. That’s for sure. Let’s put the best guy on the best guy (laughs). Let’s do it.

JM: I love the confidence. The narrative about the 2020 Titans is that the offense carried the team. That’s how the general public feels. I imagine that the defense is looking forward to changing how people think about this unit.

AH: Yeah, we definitely are. Obviously we didn’t have the season we wanted to have on that side of the ball. We have a lot of young guys that are excited to get back out there. We have guys that are ready to work their tail off. We’re excited about the group we have here. We’re all excited as a whole. That goes for the entire defense, not just the secondary. Guys are buying in. These players want to be here. We want to play in this defense and prove our worth. We’re all excited to kick the season off.

JM: What’s your impression of defensive coordinator Shane Bowen now that he’s been given the “DC” title?

AH: Shane was the linebackers coach during my rookie season. I had a good connection with him right away. Once he moved to the defensive coordinator role, our connection got even stronger last season. Shane is a smart coach. He’s played this game. He knows what he’s talking about. Guys believe and buy into what he’s saying. We trust what he’s doing as our coach.

JM: Tell me a little about your relationship with Kevin Byard. How can you guys compliment one another as partners at the safety position?

AH: When I was drafted by the Titans, Kevin Byard was the first person to hit me up and welcome me to the team. Anytime I’ve ever had a question, I’ve always gone to him. I watch and study how he does things. He’s the ultimate professional. I pay close attention to how he moves and conducts himself in and around the facility. I pay attention to his practice habits. Before I even started playing a more prominent role on this defense, I was always trying to mimic what he was doing. He’s had so much success in this league. For me, I think we’re really going to compliment one another this season. We’ll be flying around making plays.

JM: I love that. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Amani. In closing, what do your goals look like for the 2021 season?

AH: A Super Bowl ring for the Tennessee Titans in 2021. That’s all I’m focused on.

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