For Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Khyri Thornton, his rookie season was one giant piece of humble pie.
Thornton, a third-round pick last year after starting 28 games in four seasons at Southern Mississippi, was about as invisible as a 304-pound man can be during training camp. A hamstring injury sent him to injured reserve; otherwise, he might have been sent packing.
“When I got here, I thought I was naturally gifted and my punch was strong and this and that,” Thornton said. “I always listened to the outside (accolades) and what I was good at, so I never worked on other things. When you get here, you’ve got to work on everyday things like hand placement, how you punch, keep your hands above your eyes, or take this step because the wrong step will leave a gap and they’ll hit you for 90 yards.”
Thornton took his medicine and is ready to make amends. He stepped up his work in the weight room, packing on 11 pounds of muscle to weigh in at 315 on Tuesday.
“To be honest with you, I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in college,” Thornton said. “I’ve squatted so much more, benched so much more, (power) cleaned so much more now than I ever did in college. I don’t know if it’s me maturing or growing into my body, but I can tell the difference.”
Since he couldn’t participate in any on-the-field activities while on injured reserve last season, Thornton focused on getting smarter and stronger. With 2014 out the window, 2015 would be the target.
“It was a big disappointment but I can’t look at it as a negative,” he said. “I’ve got to turn it into a positive. All I heard from my agent (Rodney Edwards) was, ‘redshirt, redshirt, redshirt. Do everything you can physically, mentally to get yourself ready for next season.’”
Thornton knows what’s at stake now that “next season” has arrived. He said “words can’t describe” the hunger that’s within him following last year’s disappointment. The Packers’ defensive line might not be dominant but it is deep. The entire group from last season returned, B.J. Raji is back after missing the season and Christian Ringo was added in the sixth round.
It’s not often a third-round pick gets whacked during his second training camp but Thornton’s got plenty to prove if he’s going to make the roster and contribute.
“It’s as big as it can get,” Thornton said. “I have to show up and do what I’ve got to do. Hit the weight room hard, hit the playbook hard. I’m not going home for the break (between minicamp and training camp). I’m going to stay here and try and hit it because I feel like I’m lagging behind. I’m going to stay here when everybody goes home and get some extra work in so I can be on the field next year and make an impact.”
Still, Thornton said he does “not (feel) any pressure” as he looks ahead to what could be a make-or-break training camp. Pressure comes from not being prepared. That won’t be an issue this time. Rather than accolades, all he’s heard is criticism.
“Coach Trgo (defensive line coach Mike Trgovac) gives everyone an opportunity to go out and make a play, go out there and show what you can do, go out there and give your all, so you can earn your spot on the field,” Thornton said. “I don’t feel like there’s any pressure. Everything’s on me. Whatever I put out is what I get back.”
email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.