The Indianapolis Colts might not be that far off from being a contender in the AFC once again.
At least that's the feeling second-year safety Malik Hooker has been spreading this offseason.
There's a renewed energy and vibe around the Colts. Frank Reich is the new head coach, and the staff has been revamped. And, of course, there's Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who has not played in a game since Jan. 1, 2017. Later that month, he had surgery on his right shoulder.
Much of the Colts' success hinges on Luck and his rehabilitated shoulder. But even if Luck isn't under center, Hooker thinks the Colts can still contend.
"I'm definitely the guy that I feel like we're capable of winning now," Hooker told the team's website. "You know, we've got a lot of great players, a lot of good players coming back as well. So I feel like this year, we've got a young, fast and good, physical team, so I feel like we're definitely capable of winning now."
Not only did Luck miss last season, injuries decimated the team's depth at various positions. Hooker, who was the team's top pick out of Ohio State in the 2017 NFL Draft, was having a stellar rookie season until he suffered a torn ACL in the seventh game of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He had season-ending surgery and solidified his reputation as a ball-hawking defender who wasn't afraid to mix it up with the opposition.
Other key players who missed significant portions of the season were center Ryan Kelly, running back Robert Turbin and guard Jack Mewhort on offense. On defense, outside linebacker John Simon, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, cornerback Pierre Desir and linebacker Edwin Jackson were among the players who missed games.
The Colts open practice with their first camp on July 26, and most of those who were injured are expected to participate.
Add an infusion of youth from this year's draft -- the Colts made 11 selections including guard Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame -- to those returning players, and there should be a lot of optimism surrounding Indianapolis.
"I feel like we can't really pay attention to stuff like that -- who's out there and who's not," Hooker said. "I feel like we've got enough good backups for us to still be able to go out there and play at a high level. So I definitely feel like, like I said, whether I come back healthy or not or whoever else, I still feel like we're capable of winning a lot of ballgames this year."
The good news for the Colts, Luck plans to be starting against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.
"Knock on wood," he told reporters back in June when he threw a football -- for the first time since October -- at the team's minicamp. "I'll be playing. I believe it in my bones."
He threw a college football -- smaller than a regulation NFL-size football -- about 25 times and said he didn't feel any pain in his throwing shoulder.