2 Indianapolis Colts It's time for the defense, led by promising linebacker David Thornton, to make a stand

August 31, 2003

Linebacker David Thornton was the talk of the town whenever he
returned home to Goldsboro, N.C., during the off-season. Friends
chatted about planning trips to attend his games. Others had
already placed orders to receive NFL Ticket on DirecTV. Even
Thornton's onetime doubters lined up to compliment him: A high
school coach who had tried to dissuade him from walking on at
North Carolina talked of how Thornton embodies the fruits of hard
work and diligence.

The Colts are just as excited to see how Thornton responds in his
first season as a starter. As the weakside linebacker in coach
Tony Dungy's cover-two scheme, Thornton will be freed up to track
the ball from sideline to sideline. Mike Peterson thrived at the
position last season, leading Indianapolis with 136 tackles and
three interceptions, but he left for the Jaguars as a free agent.
For the Indianapolis defense to succeed, Thornton has to have the
same kind of impact.

On appearance alone the 6'2", 230-pound Thornton appears up to
the task. He possesses exceptional quickness and range, which is
why the Colts didn't fight to keep Peterson. A fourth-round draft
pick in 2002, Thornton spent his rookie season playing on special
teams and in nickel situations. He often worked with Peterson
after practice to get a better understanding of his defensive
keys and to improve his stance and his backpedaling skills. This
year defensive coordinator Ron Meeks wants Thornton to react more
instinctively. There are no such concerns about his tackling
ability, however. Teammates still rave about his special teams
play last season. "Let's just say if David hits people on defense
like he hit them on special teams, he's going to be something,"
says tight end Marcus Pollard.

Coming out of Goldsboro High, Thornton was hardly thought of as
anything unique. As a senior he weighed 170 pounds and played
quarterback and safety. He received two scholarship offers, both
from Division II schools, then walked on at North Carolina as a
linebacker. Coach Carl Torbush promised him a scholarship after
his junior year, but when Torbush was subsequently fired,
Thornton had to prove himself all over again to new coach John
Bunting, a former NFL linebacker and assistant coach. Thornton
held onto his scholarship with a strong showing in spring
practice, then led the Tar Heels in tackles during his senior
season. Some analysts said that the Colts got a bargain when they
snapped him up early on the second day of the draft.

Thornton hasn't forgotten what he went through on the road to
becoming an NFL starter. He uses that as motivation, playing with
a passion that Indy must have on defense. Though the unit
improved last year in the defensive-minded Dungy's first season,
it still surrendered 124.5 rushing yards a game, which ranked
20th in the league. But the Jets' 41-0 rout of the Colts in an
AFC wild-card playoff last January showed how far the defense
still has to go.

This year Indianapolis will keep its defenders fresh by using a
deep rotation up front featuring second-year speed rusher Dwight
Freeney, who had 13 sacks as a rookie. The key is getting the
linemen more comfortable with Dungy's single-gap system. "The
players have shown a passion for being more precise, which you
need in this defense," says Dungy, who guided the Colts to a 10-6
record last year. "They know that if everybody does their job,
the scheme will work. Now that they have an appreciation for
that, nobody wants to be the person who winds up out of
position."

Thornton, of course, is the one player who can least afford a
gaffe--or a costly injury. His backup is Cato June, a rookie
sixth-round draft pick who played safety at Michigan. But
Thornton doesn't appear overly concerned. "Ever since I've been
here, I've been focused on what I can do to help this team win,"
he says. "It started with opportunities on special teams and in
the nickel, and now I have to get it done as a starter." --J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES HEAVY HITTER Thornton is still learning the nuances of his position, but there's no question about his tackling ability. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS SATURDAY COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

The Colts are still waiting for wideout REGGIE WAYNE, their
first-round draft pick in 2001, to be a meaningful contributor on
a weekly basis. With the release of Qadry Ismail, Wayne is the
team's No. 2 receiver. But he still has to win over quarterback
Peyton Manning, who has yet to show great confidence in his young
teammate.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"I'm not sure anyone ever completely comes back from an ACL
injury, but can Edgerrin James get back to being a real good
running back? Certainly.... Marvin Harrison will catch 10 balls
in a game and be ticked off because he could've had 12. He'll
play another 10 years because he doesn't get hit. When he
catches the ball, he's either getting out of bounds, going down
or running by you.... I like Jeff Saturday. He's quick and
maintains solid blocking angles.... Their offensive personality
is part of their problem. I'm not sure that throwing the ball
all the time can win in the playoffs, and a lot of teams think
they can bully the Colts. It's hard to preach toughness when
your linemen are always backing up to pass-protect. It's also
hard for your defense to play tough--your guys start to get
passive because they're practicing against a pass-oriented
system, and then they're on the field too long.... They've
tried to add speed in the secondary, but I think they'll still
have trouble.... Dwight Freeney will create a lot of mayhem
coming off the edge, and they need Larry Tripplett to become a
force in the middle. He's a big guy, but he plays too soft."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Cleveland
14 TENNESSEE
21 JACKSONVILLE
28 at New Orleans

Oct. 6 at Tampa Bay (Mon.)
12 CAROLINA
19 Open Date
26 HOUSTON

Nov. 2 at Miami
9 at Jacksonville
16 N.Y. JETS
23 at Buffalo
30 NEW ENGLAND

Dec. 7 at Tennessee
14 ATLANTA
21 DENVER
28 at Houston

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 14
Opponents' 2002 winning
percentage: .518
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 10-6
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 26/4/9
DEFENSE 20/2/8

COACH: Tony Dungy; second season with Indianapolis (64-48 in
NFL)

EDGERRIN JAMES

POS. PVR ATT. TDs AVG.
RB 22 277 989 3.6

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
61 354 5.8 3

PEYTON MANNING

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 26 591 392 66.3

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
4,200 27 19 88.8

MARVIN HARRISON

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 15 143 1,722 11

DALLAS CLARK (R) [1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 218 43 742 4

TARIK GLENN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'5" 332 lbs. 16 16

RICK DEMULLING

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'4" 304 lbs. 14 14

JEFF SATURDAY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'2" 291 lbs. 16 16

STEVE SCIULLO (R) [1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 330 lbs. 12 12

RYAN DIEM

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'6" 331 lbs. 16 16

MARCUS POLLARD

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 150 43 478 6

REGGIE WAYNE

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 164 49 716 4

DEFENSE

RE DWIGHT FREENEY 46 tackles 13 sacks
RT LARRY TRIPPLETT 21 tackles 0 sacks
LT MONTE REAGOR [1] 20 tackles 1 sack
LE CHAD BRATZKE 45 tackles 6 sacks
OLB MARCUS WASHINGTON 66 tackles 2 sacks
MLB ROB MORRIS 100 tackles 3 sacks
OLB DAVID THORNTON 33 tackles 0 sacks
CB DAVID MACKLIN 56 tackles 1 int.
SS MIKE DOSS (R)[1] 107 tackles 2 int.
FS IDREES BASHIR 50 tackles 2 int.
CB WALT HARRIS 44 tackles 2 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K MIKE VANDERJAGT 183 34/34 XPS 23/31 FGS 103 PTS.
PR TROY WALTERS 323 35 RET. 21.7 AVG. 0 TDS
KR DOMINIC RHODES* 242 14 RET. 25.4 AVG. 1 TD
P HUNTER SMITH 66 PUNTS 40.5 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)
*2001 stats

"Their offensive personality is part of their problem. Teams
think they can bully the Colts."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)