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Many Colts fans don't want to see Hugh Thornton starting after a rough rookie season. Thornton was one of the league's worst guards, coming in as 69th among 81 starting guards in Pro Football Focus' grades. Thornton gave up 39 pressures in pass protection, tied with Mike McGlynn for 10th-most among all guards in the NFL.
So, there is plenty of hope that rookie Jack Mewhort or veteran Lance Louis will push Thornton for a starting spot. But while Mewhort will likely start someday, I predict that Thornton will win the spot to start the 2014 season.
First, Thornton has a year of experience under his belt, and that is no small thing. Ryan Grigson has spoken in the past about his hesitancy to start rookie offensive linemen, telling ESPN's Paul Kuharsky:
...a first-year offensive lineman, there are a lot more bullets flying in that vicinity he’s working in that involves thinking, that involved experience... A lot of times on the offensive line, their first year they are going to see exotic blitzes that they’ve never even dreamed of. They are going to see pass-rushers and body types that they never knew existed.
Thornton may have had a poor rookie season, but it was still against NFL defensive linemen, which is a huge step above the Big Ten defenses that Mewhort faced last season.
Second, Thornton did show promise at the end of last season and should take a step forward in 2014. According to Colts Authority's Ben Gundy, Thornton "has the highest ceiling of any of the Colts' linemen, and has shown flashes of brilliance."
Thornton struggled mightily against New England in the divisional game, but had two straight strong performances prior to that. He has all the physical tools necessary to be a starting guard, it's merely technique and mental breakdowns that must be improved going forward.
Like the Colts kept Thornton on the bench to start his rookie year, I expect them to curb Mewhort's exposure early on. He'll likely get his chances to start at some point in 2014, but not in Week 1.
Winner: Hugh Thornton