07/09/06 — Thornton wanted to stay in Indy

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Thornton wanted to stay in Indy

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on July 9, 2006 2:01 AM

David Thornton wanted to be an Indianapolis Colt for the rest of his career.

After all, they were the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2002. While he earned it, they were the team that gave him a shot at a starting job at strongside linebacker in 2003. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Thornton finished with a career-best 158 tackles that year and essentially put himself on the NFL map.

He moved to the weakside in 2004 and was a starter and fixture on an improving defense over the next two seasons.

Still, football isn't just a game. It's a business.

Indianapolis had already lost two solid, young linebackers to free agency during Thornton's tenure -- Mike Peterson (2003) and Marcus Washington (2004). When he signed a five-year deal worth $22.5 million with the Tennessee Titans in mid-March, the Goldsboro native became the next loss in that lineage.

"My whole offseason experience was a roller-coaster ride, but I know it all worked out according to God's plan," Thornton said. "I wanted to stay a Colt, but it wasn't the wisest decision for me to make."

But Thornton's happy with the move to Tennessee. To go along with the comforts of the healthy contract, he stays in a familiar division, the AFC South.

He quickly grasped the mentality and approach of Titans' coach Jeff Fisher, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and linebackers coach Dave McGinnis. Linebackers blitz in Tennessee's diverse defensive package. With Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney coming off the ends in Indy, he didn't get to do a lot of blitzing.

"Once free agency started, the Titans were the team that showed the most interest. They flew me out, and I was very impressed with coach Fisher and coach Schwartz. They showed me how they were going to use me in their defensive system."

Also, Nashville is about two hours closer to Goldsboro than Indianapolis and essentially a straight shot on I-40 West. That's good for Thornton and his family and friends -- and the linebacker's taste buds.

"That was an intregal part of the decision. I had some teams out west interested in me, but in Nashville I knew would still be in the south and have that southern hospitality," he said with a smile. "I can get sweet tea whenever I want it Nashville, and I couldn't get that in Indianapolis."

Sweet for Titans' fans would be returning them back to respectability in the AFC and better yet, the playoffs. They've missed out on the postseason the last two years and have a combined record of 9-23 during that span.

But since moving from Houston in 1997, the franchise has had some banner years -- including a Super Bowl trip in 2000 where Tennessee was literally a yard short from tying St. Louis before time ran out. Tennessee has four total playoff berths and has finished 8-8 or better in six of its nine years in Nashville.

"They've been to the Super Bowl, so the pieces are there. It's not like it's a losing organization," he said. "It's a football town. The few month's I've been there I have seen a lot of enthusiasm out of that city."

The 27-year-old Thornton will look to team with Keith Bulluck to form a solid, outside linebacker combination -- hoping to boost a struggling defense. The Titans finished near the bottom in most statistical categories last season, including third-to-last in points allowed (29 per game).

The Titans' biggest addition this offseason was their third pick in the draft, Texas' quarterback Vince Young. The hero of this year's National Championship game, Young is expected to be a back-up this season and learn the ropes of the NFL. Meanwhile, Billy Volek -- a career back-up -- will get the starting nod to start the season.

In a seemingly bitter contract dispute, long-time Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair left for Baltimore.

Thornton was impressed with Young's athleticism during his Spring workouts with the team.

"He's going to be a special talent in the league. He's huge and he's got God-given ability," Thornton said. "It just depends on how he can get a grasp of our offense and adjust to the NFL. I think eventually he'll be an asset to our team and energize the organization."

Tennessee also added Chris Hope (safety), Kevin Mawae (center) and David Givens (wide receiver) in free agency. Thornton believes leadership is the biggest quality all four bring to the table.

"I think one of the main objectives was to get guys who were proven winners. They wanted to get guys that know what it takes to be professionals," he said. "I was one of those guys that has been in a winning program since I have been in the league. And I was lucky to be in a system with coach Dungy in Indy where things are done the right way.

"They added instant leadership that will be great examples for a young team."