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Thornton Must Overcome His Demons And Improve His Technique

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Hugh Thornton has the potential to be a big addition to the offensive line. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Hugh Thornton has the potential to be a big addition to the offensive line. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

On Tuesday, I began a series taking a closer look at each player the Indianapolis Colts selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. Today is Hugh Thornton’s turn.

Position/size: Guard, 6-3, 320

Collegiate awards: 2012 All-Big Ten second-team by coaches and honorable mention by media; Earned the Illinois Point Award (top offensive lineman) as senior

Collegiate stats: Played in 42 career games, started 35 times at guard or tackle; In 2010 helped block for Big Ten’s best rushing offense (241.1 ypg) and Illinois school record for points in a season (423)

Strengths: Thornton is one tough dude. He’s very strong and uses his strength aggressively to take out defenders. He always plays to the whistle and can get defenders riled up with his non-stop motor. New OC Pep Hamilton has emphasized he wants a power-running scheme and Thornton will fit perfectly into that philosophy. With his experience at tackle in college, Thornton will also bring versatility and athleticism to the guard position in the NFL. He’ll be the guy the Colts want to pull into space on screens and sweeps.

Weaknesses: Playing-wise, Thornton needs to get his technique and footwork down. He’s got the athleticism to turn into a solid starter, but he’s got to become more fundamentally sound to go to the next level. He’s not a raw prospect, so the fact that he’s still weak in this department is a little concerning. Thornton has also had some off-the-field issues. He certainly went through a rough upbringing. He found his mother and sister murdered while visiting them over Christmas break in 2004, and he had to move in with his aunt after some conflicts with his father. At Illinois, Thornton was arrested for fighting at a bar and unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor. He also admitted using a fake ID.

Best case scenario: Thornton shakes off his demons and starts right away. With his physical presence he becomes the poster child on the offensive line for Hamilton’s physical running game. His athleticism also makes him a solid pass protector to help Andrew Luck stay upright and off the ground.

Worst case scenario: Thornton’s technique does him in and he is unable to keep the proper footwork to drive defenders away from ball carriers and Luck. He’ll make the roster in 2013, but maybe winds up on the practice squad next year. He also gets arrested again and becomes more of a headache to deal with than an asset on the field.

Realistic expectations: It would be a major disappointment if Thornton isn’t closer to the best case scenario than the worst case. It’s reasonable to expect him to start as a rookie. Recent signee Donald Thomas is expected to start at left guard, meaning Thornton will have to beat out incumbent starter Mike McGlynn at right guard. I have faith he can do that. He probably won’t be much of an upgrade as a rookie, but after a year or two of NFL coaching, he should turn into a reliable starter. Playing him now will pay off dividends in the long run.

Quotes: GM Ryan Grigson (via Colts.com): “I like that our whole staff has had big grades on him since August. This was a guy who played left tackle this year at a high level. (He) really is a great fit at guard, but started all four different positions, except center. He represents all the traits you could want at guard – size, power, aggression, production and constant finish. The way he plays excites you. As an offensive lineman, he can set the tone for how the game is meant to be played.”

HC Chuck Pagano (via Colts.com): “He has a ton of Colt traits. He’s big physically. He’s got ‘nasty’ written all over him. We talk about running the football and stopping the run, he’s really going to help our quarterback. He’s going to move people, change the line of scrimmage for us and help us run the football.”

Thornton (via Indianapolis Star): “Awesome. This is a crazy experience. Man, I’m just overjoyed I got this opportunity.”