Analysis: Is It Make-or-Break or Beyond That at Colts Camp?

Former third-round pick Hugh Thornton has started 32 games in three seasons but still has a lot to prove this preseason.

ANDERSON, Ind. — Upon returning to Indianapolis Colts training camp Monday morning, I got a look at Hugh Thornton’s new lion tattoo that covers his entire back.

Body art that took 27 hours to finish qualifies as perspective from camp? No, especially not for a guy with a dozen tattoos.

But wondering about how much longer we’ll see that guy, that’s the question. Asking the former third-round pick about his fourth season being a make-or-break proposition provided an answer that gets to what Don Henley sang about, the heart of the matter.

“It’s make-or-break for anybody,” Thornton said. “It’s camp time. Whenever camp rolls around, there’s pressure on you, there’s pressure on the team to perform. Obviously everybody is out here to win a job.”

As he spoke, the memory banks drifted back to nose tackle Josh Chapman a year ago. My camera was fixed on him in the Anderson University parking lot during camp, and Chapman didn’t give so much as a hint of being concerned about possibly losing his job.

To be honest, I came away convinced Chapman had lost touch with reality. He had to be great that camp … or else. And it turned out to be the latter. Chapman was cut at the end of preseason and he’s not played again. In March, he returned to Alabama’s coaching staff as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Chapman spoke then about how he had lost some weight, was in great shape and ready to make his fourth NFL season his best.

Thornton reported to camp at 313 pounds, 27 less than what he weighed at camp last year. He’s in the best shape of his life and he’s confident. And it sounds too familiar.

There’s a reason this 32-game starter is on the bubble. He’s been inconsistent, obviously, be it due to controlling his emotions on the field or getting hurt and not being able to stay on the field. When the Colts turned to him in a Week 3 game at Tennessee last season, head coach Chuck Pagano had to have an in-your-face sideline talk with Thornton, who had been continually flagged for holding because he was physically man-handling guys and throwing them to the ground.

Here’s the practice reality from Monday: Thornton is no longer alternating at right guard with the first-team offense. He’s behind Denzelle Good. And if Thornton doesn’t win this job, there’s no reason to keep him at the end of preseason. The Colts save $1.671 million if they nix the final year of his contract.

We sometimes make excuse for guys who get hurt because bad luck can dramatically impact a career. Thornton has had ankle, shoulder and elbow injuries, among others. He missed all of offseason training activities in rehab.

But he insisted this morning that he’s healthy. So there are really no more excuses.

That’s the way it should be. Too many times players survive on excuses. It’s never really their fault, or at least they don’t think so and the team always accentuates the positive, even if it doesn’t exist.

“Obviously every player wants to be a starter, but I’m here to help the Colts win a championship,” Thornton said Sunday. “So whatever they need me to do, I’m here to fill that role.”

Those are the words of a guy trying to sound like a team player. Reality is, Thornton must be better than that.

The Colts don’t need another backup who can’t hold down a starting job.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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