INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis spent two of its first three draft picks on offensive linemen in an attempt to bolster a unit for a dynamic offense.
While Khaled Holmes was felled by an ankle injury early in training camp, Hugh Thornton was rolled up on in pre-camp work and missed most of it also with an ankle injury.
After veteran Jeff Linkenbach took 20 opening snaps last week against Cleveland, Thornton assumed the right guard spot for 42 plays and performed well in his professional debut.
"It was awesome, I got to be a player again," said Thornton. "There's one tempo you go at in practice. I don't want to say you don't go at full speed, but you're going against your own (teammates). You have to watch certain things.
"I was able to go out there and play my game, just play to the best of my abilities and try to help the team go out there and win that game."
Ryan Grigson drew a bead on Thornton prior to his final season at Illinois, taking the All-Big Ten choice with the 86th overall pick after he started 35-of-42 career games.
Thornton sponged his way through rookie camp and OTAs, feeling he was making the adaptation to the NFL smoothly.
After coming back from the summer break, Thornton incurred the injury, and it provided him only the chance to learn the mental side of his job.
"In the pros, one thing a lot of veteran players and coaches tell me is you have to learn how to take mental reps," said Thornton. "I had to learn how to become more professional and take some mental reps and change the way I studied film and just looked at the game.
"It's a 53-man roster. You may not get all the reps you want to, so you have to visualize, study and learn how to study the playbook. I thought I did a pretty good job of that."
Chuck Pagano inserted Thornton into action when regular Mike McGlynn was out with a minor knee injury. Pagano saw Thornton excel on his first try.
"I think the first snap he got in, we pulled him," said Pagano. "(Quentin Groves, the) outside linebacker came and tried to set the edge. If you go back and watch the tape, it's pretty impressive what he did on his very first snap out there.
"(Hugh) played consistent football throughout. He was good in the run game. He did a nice job."
Thornton very much found it to his liking to be hitting his first outside competition. He helped the Illini to consecutive bowl appearances and wants to play whatever role possible in helping Indianapolis to a second straight playoff appearance.
Thornton says he has high expectations for himself and appreciates the work and trust found in teammates who need to see him and Holmes mature quickly.
Thornton already has his checklist for Cincinnati.
"I think it's important that I improve in my picking up things on the defense, defensive stunts, just the chemistry with the team and some of the other guys," said Thornton. "I want to get some more cardio in and conditioning, seeing as I didn't practice all camp.
"I just want to go out there and get a good feel for the game. I'm going to go out and play – no mistakes, no mental errors. Coming out with a win would be the perfect game."