What would happen to the blossoming Jarvis Jackson, who started the last two games at Thurman's middle linebacker spot? What about veteran Derrick White, who took Thurman's place in the first game before being slowed by a sprained ankle? The only option seemed to be leaving one of them in the middle to back up Thurman and moving the other to the weak side to compete for a starting job.
VanGorder, though, showed early this week how highly he thinks of Thurman when he said Jackson probably will move back to the weak side, and White will get some work on the weak side and the strong side. The end result is Thurman will be playing without a true backup.
"He's proven to be more durable than most other players," VanGorder said.
VanGorder is a former middle linebacker himself, a two-time all-conference player at Wayne State 25 years ago, and it's clear that if VanGorder had been a step quicker and blessed with a helping or two more of natural ability, he would be Thurman.
"He's a football player," VanGorder said, underlining "football" and "player" with his tone.
"He's one of the best I've ever had. He's tough, he's rugged. He has every intangible you could want."
A player like that can only help, even coming onto a defense already ranked second in the SEC (260.3 yards allowed per game), safety Thomas Davis said.
"When you have an All-SEC, All-America type player returning, it can't do anything but make you better," Davis said.
Linebacker Arnold Harrison said Thurman's return was like getting back a "vital organ."
"He establishes a different speed tempo for our defense," VanGorder said. "With (defensive end David) Pollack and with Davis and now with Odell, all three levels have a guy who can establish a different type of tempo."
Thurman is clearly amused by the question of how he'll fit back in with the defense.
"I don't think I'll bring it down too much," he said with a smile.
Although Thurman has suffered through these last three games, which he missed due to an undisclosed violation of team rules, he's glad to be coming back against No. 13 LSU.
"As a competitor, I'm glad that it's LSU, the game that will probably set our season," he said. "I'm overexcited to get back."
Thurman has practiced with the second- and third-teamers during his suspension. He was thrilled Monday to be moved back with the first team during practice.
"I'm back out there with my homies," he said.
The first-team offense, which practices against the second- and third-team defenses, is just as happy.
"He can kill a play by himself by getting off blocks as fast as he does," starting guard Nick Jones said. "I'm glad to see him go back."
Thurman swears he didn't take his frustrations out on anybody in particular, but there's still time.
"We've got a whole two weeks, so somebody might get it," he said.
Thurman, a Monticello native, is familiar enough with the team's defense that he should flow seamlessly back in the mix, but there still is one thing he needs to work on in the next two weeks.
"Even as good as he played last year, he never really took over our defense verbally," VanGorder said. "He's a very intelligent player and he has to share that knowledge with our entire defense. We'll see how comfortable he can get with that going into this game."