INDIANAPOLIS – For the better part of the last nine months, Ryan Grigson was high on Illinois offensive lineman Hugh Thornton.
Thornton played four years at Illinois, toiling at every position on the line except center. Thornton, 6-3, 320, started 35 career games, including 10 this past season at left tackle.
A dominant performance at the Senior Bowl was icing on the cake for Grigson. It did not tip the scales since the Colts’ entire personnel staff graded Thornton highly throughout his final season.
“I like that our whole staff has had big grades on him since August,” said Grigson. “This was a guy who played left tackle this year at a high level. (He) really is a great fit at guard, but started all four different positions, except center.
“He represents all the traits you could want at guard – size, power, aggression, production and constant finish. The way he plays excites you. As an offensive lineman, he can set the tone for how the game is meant to be played.”
Grigson and Chuck Pagano worked on shaping the offensive line last year in the initial season of their regime.
“Iron sharpens iron like man sharpens man. We’re going to keep bringing in the best football players that we can, the best talent that we can,” said Pagano. “We feel great about Hugh coming in.
“He has a ton of Colt traits. He’s big physically. He’s got ‘nasty’ written all over him. We talk about running the football and stopping the run, he’s really going to help our quarterback. He’s going to move people, change the line of scrimmage for us and help us run the football.”
Tutored at Illinois by Joe Gilbert, now the Colts’ line coach, Thornton started seven games at right tackle in 2009, then started 18 games over the next two seasons at weakside guard before shifting to tackle for his final season.
The club’s line last year was called the “walking wounded” by Grigson after the season. Because of injuries, only two linemen started every game. Eight linemen started over the course of the year, and the team was forced to make in-game adjustments in nine different outings.
It was Thornton’s ability to anchor multiple positions that appealed to Grigson.
“Versatility, the thing we learned, was on the offensive line we had four games where we had all our starters from Day One actually play together,” said Grigson. “It’s a long season, and you need good linemen to play when you are hurt.”
Thornton was a second-team all-conference pick in 2012. He was a component that helped the Illini win bowl games in 2010 and 2011 and in his sophomore year, Illinois had the Big Ten’s top rushing attack. That team also broke the school mark with 423 points.
“We’ve been talking about him for a real, long time,” said Grigson. “He was targeted since we woke up this morning. He has a connection to our coaching staff, and that’s a bonus.
“Our grades from the entire staff are all consistent with him being a really, really talented guy who will play in this league a long time at high level. It’s nice to know he’s wearing a horseshoe.”