With good size (5-11, 193) and the speed that made him a highly successful and recruited running back and return specialist at LaGrange High, Thornton might be close to the ideal makeup for a cornerback.
It takes more to play the position, however. Coaches talk of cornerbacks playing on an island, because they often are isolated where every mistake is seen by all.
VanGorder is worried about the Thornton's confidence as the sophomore returns to the starting lineup for Friday's 5 p.m. ET Music City Bowl game against Boston College.
In his first year on defense, Thornton endured a rocky season as he was the obvious target for opposing passers. Why not throw at Thornton instead of senior Tim Wansley, who last year shared the Southeastern Conference lead with six interceptions?
Thornton was picked on so often that he finally lost the starting job to Decory Bryant late in the season. With Wansley out for the bowl game with a broken leg, however, Bryant and Thornton both will start.
VanGorder said the top backups at cornerback will be Brandon Williams and Ryan Davis, the former Carver standout who recorded an interception late in the last regular-season victory over Houston.
Even though Boston College is expected to feature star running back William Green, the Eagles also are effective throwing the ball. Any scouting report of Georgia's defense would spotlight the loss of Wansley as possibly exposing a weakness.
Thus, the spotlight will be on Thornton.
A shaky game could bring back old questions about possibly moving Thornton back to tailback, where he might be a perfect fit in Coach Mark Richt's Florida State offense. A strong showing by Thornton could help him regain momentum — and confidence — toward regaining his starting job next season.
"My concern with Bruce is how competitive he's going to be, how hard is he going to compete,'' VanGorder said Wednesday after No. 16 Georgia completed its second day of practice in Nashville.
Asked to elaborate, VanGorder said "If you're not competing, your confidence level is affecting how you compete.''
Thornton may have the talent to make plays, but if he is not confident he might play too soft.
"I've been telling him, at the right time, you've got to be aggressive,'' VanGorder said, adding "He's always been able to cover man-to-man. He really has great coverage skills.''
Thornton is not the first player to endure growing pains in his first season at cornerback. Many college and pro players have appeared overmatched in their first years as starters before gaining experience and confidence and developing into all-star players.
"He hasn't played cornerback that long,'' Richt said Wednesday. "He's still learning what to do. He's definitely athletic enough to do it. You can see improvement, and he's got two more years.''
Thornton called his sophomore season "an OK year.''
"I think I made a tremendous step adjusting to playing defensive back,'' Thornton said. "I had some ups and downs. ... Through some of the bad times, I've learned.''
Added Thornton: "This is basically like a challenge to me. Everybody thinks I haven't made a whole lot of plays. I'm looking forward to making the plays next year.''
Even though he lost his starting position with two games left in the regular season, Thornton says confidence is not a factor.
"I feel good and I feel confident,'' he said. "Even when I wasn't playing, I felt confident. It gave me a chance to look at the game from a different angle. I don't have a problem with that; I don't have a chip on my shoulder.''
Said Thornton: "I believe in my ability and my skill level.''