10/12/04 — Graduate glance -- Thornton putting up solid numbers in third year

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Graduate glance -- Thornton putting up solid numbers in third year

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on October 12, 2004 1:56 PM

INDIANAPOLIS -- A smooth transition.

Indianapolis Colts linebacker and former Goldsboro High and University of North Carolina standout David Thornton describes his move from weak-side to strong-side linebacker in his third NFL season as just that.

His numbers in his third NFL season don't lie.

He came into the Sunday's 35-14 win over the Oakland Raiders averaging a team-leading 8.5 total tackles per game with 22 total solo tackles and 12 assists. He finished the three tackles and two assists against Oakland in a performace in front of 36 fans from Goldsboro.

Thornton, Indianapolis' defensive captain, may have not had his most dominating, individual performance on Sunday. It doesn't take a lengthy conversation with the league's 11th best tackler to understand that individual stats are far less important than the overall performance of the team.

It's all about consistency and building a winner.

"Our coaching staff is really preparing us each week. The team who is the most consistent for the 60-minute battle is the team that's usually going to win," Thornton said.

The former walk-on at North Carolina is no stranger to switching positions. Last year, Thornton stepped into a starting role at the weak side when Mike Peterson went to Jacksonville as a free-agent. Free agency hit the Colt defense again this offseason when strong-side backer Marcus Washington went to Washington.

Not only has he evolved into a more consistent player, Thornton is also more versatile.

"It's been a smooth transaction for me," Thornton said. "Coach (Tony) Dungy has done a lot to make the transition go smoothly. It is making me a more versatile player to play the strong and weak side. I just go out there and try to make plays."

"You have to be willing to make sacrifices if need be."

He came into Sunday's game firmly believing that the defense he captains -- ranked last in the NFL in total defense and last against the pass -- is improving. The Colts' ability to stymie the Raiders went along way in backing that up.

Indianapolis picked off Oakland quarterback Kerry Collins three times, including a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter by cornerback Jason David -- getting his first start in the place of Donald Strickland. Nick Harper and Cato June also had one interception each, while Harper had one more interception negated after linebacker Jim Nelson was flagged for a late hit on Collins.

The Raiders were just four-of-12 on third-down conversions and failed to convert a fourth down in two tries.

The Colts may have been struggling against the pass going into Sunday's tilt, but they were a solid, ninth against the rush. They backed that up by yielding just 53 yards rushing against Oakland.

Thornton and the Indianapolis defense have the luxury of playing alongside one of the more prolific offenses in the league. The Colts are the second-best overall offense in the NFL and ranked fourth in passing. Quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and wide receiver Marvin Harrison are three of the best at their respective positions.

"Our offense is one of the best in the league, and our defense is getting better and better," Thornton said.

Improving enough to propel the Colts into the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay in early February? A little too early to tell with only one-fourth of the season gone by.

Sunday's complete performance on both sides of the ball proved that they can't be left off of the short-list of contenders.