INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts guard Hugh Thornton doesn’t prefer to use the word “scared” when talking about his initial reaction when then-starter Donald Thomas was taken off the field in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins last season and Thornton was told he would be manning the position for the rest of the season.
Thornton says he was “hesitant” and “timid” in his rookie season. It didn’t take him long to realize he was no longer at the University of Illinois.
“We were playing against top athletes every week [last season],” said Thornton, the Colts' locker room DJ. “Definitely going out there for the first time, there was a lot of nerves. I was playing not to get beat rather than playing to succeed. As the games went on, I realized I could play with these guys physically.”
Inconsistent is a good way to describe Thornton’s rookie season. There were times when he looked completely overwhelmed and other times when you could see his potential.
That’s expected when you consider that Thornton, the Colts’ third-round pick in 2013, wasn’t expected to play as a rookie because Thomas and Mike McGlynn were set at guard.
“Last season taught me how to be a professional, learning how to be accountable for your job,” Thornton said. “It helped me be a better teammate. It definitely humbled me a lot as far as coming out of college and through the draft and everything, you’re considered as the best of your group. Now you come to the NFL and you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and there’s some humility in that.”
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had positive thoughts about Thornton’s rookie season.
“We were really pleased,” Grigson said. “You talk about a guy who can match up with anybody physically. He matched with [San Francisco’s] Justin Smith in that first game. He had his snags, but heck, for a guy who is 336 [pounds], the way he moves around, he looks great out there.”
The Colts will likely have two new starters – at guard and center – on the interior part of the offensive line this season, but Thornton, even though he doesn’t see it that way, is in the position to maintain his starting spot. Thornton, who said nothing is a given, spent the offseason at right guard with the first unit. He could end up being the veteran member of the interior part of the offensive line if rookie Jack Mewhort and second-year player Khaled Holmes start at guard and center, respectively.
“It’s all about competence, his overall knowledge of what he’s doing,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “He’s done a great job of really spending time just watching the film and working on communicating with the guys that are around him and beside him and just gaining a better understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively. But he’s a bear now. He’s big and strong and he’s another smart guy that we have on our offense.”