INDIANAPOLIS – Hugh Thornton’s NFL preseason debut was delayed two games by an ankle sprain. The time on the sideline only heightened his anticipation for Saturday night.
“I can’t emphasize enough how excited I am to get out there and play,” he said Thursday in a phone interview.
Thornton, an offensive lineman, graduated from Oberlin High School and was Indianapolis’ third-round pick (No. 86 overall) out of the University of Illinois. He saw his first NFL action in the first half vs. the Browns.
“I’m pretty confident and pretty positive I can pick up where I left off,” he said. “I want to put my best effort forward with whatever group I’m with.”
Thornton was scheduled to play right guard with the second-team offense Saturday night, but worked in with the first team in the first half. He matched up against defensive linemen Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor and Billy Winn and appeared to hold his own.
The Colts were delighted they were able to land Thornton and projected him as a starter. But in rookie minicamp leading into training camp, he suffered a mid-ankle sprain. He returned to practice this week.
“It was (tough), but it was an advantage as well,” he said. “I was able to see the game live and get a good feel for the game from the sideline. It was a good experience.”
Thornton (6-foot-3, 334 pounds) entered camp behind veteran Mike McGlynn, who’s struggled in the preseason. Third-stringer Jeff Linkenbach got the start vs. the Browns with McGlynn hurting, so Thornton still has the chance to earn a starting spot by Week 1.
That’s his goal.
“It’s not like I missed OTAs and have not been in the system,” he said. “Ultimately it’s the coach’s decision. But I’m going to play the best I can. I’m just busting my tail to win the job.”
Despite not having played in a game, Thornton felt the adjustment to life in the NFL has gone smoothly. He likes Indianapolis and is settling in.
“I feel a part of the team and like they’re excited to have me here,” he said. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”
The Colts are glad to have him.
“He’s big physically,” coach Chuck Pagano told reporters after the draft. “He’s got nasty written all over him. He’s going to move people. He’s going to change the line of scrimmage for us. He’s going to be able to help us run the football.”
Family from Ohio planned to attend the game, and Thornton’s sister and friend were scheduled to drive up from Illinois.
“I’m real excited to show them what I do best,” Thornton said. “I’m grateful to be back for this game.”
GETTING PICKED ON
Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden got a rude welcome to the NFL.
The third-round pick out of San Diego State filled in for the injured Chris Owens and lined up outside in the first-team nickel package, with Buster Skrine sliding inside to the slot. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck looked for McFadden’s No. 29 jersey every chance he could.
McFadden gave up completions of 9 to T.Y. Hilton and 14 to Reggie Wayne on the first drive. He allowed a 7-yarder for a first down to Darrius Heyward-Bey and a 15-yarder to Wayne over the middle.
It wasn’t all bad. McFadden had a breakup on a pass to Wayne over the middle and made a good tackle of Wayne on a screen.
“I got me feet wet,” McFadden said. “I haven’t played since last year. I think I could have played a little better game, but it’s my first game back and I feel like I played a pretty solid game.”
Pagano and Browns coach Rob Chudzinski go way back. Pagano was a graduate assistant when Chudzinski played tight end at the University of Miami, then they coached together at Miami and with the Browns under coach Butch Davis in 2004.
“I know him well,” Chudzinski said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I still have the picture of my kids in their ‘ChuckStrong’ T-shirts that we sent to him last fall when he was going through his ordeal. I’m just happy to hear everything is going well with him from that standpoint.”
Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia last year and missed part of the season.
Spencer Lanning rebounded for a mis-hit 29-yard punt with nets of 58 and 49 in the first half.
He’s the only punter left on the roster following the release of T.J. Conley on Thursday, but that doesn’t guarantee him the job. The Browns could sign someone after cuts across the league.
Lanning opened the game with a 31-yarder that was fair caught at the 11-yard line. Then came punts of 29, 65 and 50. He averaged 46.7 on seven punts with a 39.6 net and two inside the 20-yard line.
** Chudzinski wanted to see what backup safety Johnson Bademosi could do as a kickoff returner following the broken leg of Dion Lewis. Bademosi didn’t show much.
He had a 30-yard return to the 24, a 20-yarder to the 15 in which he lost his shoe on his first step and a 23-yarder to the 20.
Receiver Travis Benjamin expects to return punts and kickoffs when the season starts.
Receiver David Nelson (knee) didn’t dress for the game and has missed all three preseason games. He returned to practice Sunday, but the medical staff decided he wasn’t ready for game action.
Also inactive were: kicker Brandon Bogotay (groin), receivers Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and Davone Bess (knee tendinitis), Owens (foot), cornerback Trevin Wade (shoulder), tight end Gary Barnidge (shoulder), defensive end Desmond Bryant (back) and outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung).
The long-term injured didn’t make the trip: running backs Montario Hardesty (knee surgery) and Dion Lewis (broken fibula) and offensive linemen Shawn Lauvao (ankle surgery), Jason Pinkston (ankle), Ryan Miller (concussion) and Chris Faulk (knee surgery).
The first mandatory roster cut to 75 is Tuesday. The Browns have 88 players on the roster. The cut to the regular-season limit of 53 is Saturday.
** In addition to home and road games vs. AFC North rivals Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in 2014, the Browns will host Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Tampa Bay and travel to Atlanta, Carolina, Jacksonville and Tennessee.
The undetermined games are home vs. the AFC West team and at the AFC East team that finish in the same position in their divisions as the Browns do.
** The Lucas Oil Stadium roof was open for the game.
** The Colts’ nine-win turnaround in 2012 – from 2-14 to 11-5 – was the third largest in NFL history.
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