After two weeks of filling in at defensive end for the Tennessee Titans, John Thornton will be back in his familiar defensive tackle role Sunday when the Titans travel to Indianapolis.
But that doesn’t mean his days as an end are done just yet. Even though Carlos Hall, back from arthroscopic knee surgery after missing two games, will start Sunday against the Colts, the Titans will still use Thornton to spell Hall and Kevin Carter until Kearse’s anticipated return the following week against Houston.
“We have had guys here in the past that we have asked to do that, and JT is one of those guys who has done a better job at playing both positions,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “Henry [Ford] has done it very well. We have committed to Henry playing inside and staying inside, but he could do it also if we asked him. But John was anxious and excited about getting out there, and he’s doing a good job for us.”
“Doing a good job?” Yes, absolutely. Thornton more than held his own in the Titans’ victories over Jacksonville and Cincinnati.
But “anxious and excited about getting out there?” That’s is in marked contrast to what most had thought or heard about Thornton’s desire to move outside.
“I don’t have any problems with it. I’ve might have said before that I didn’t want to do it, but that was when Jevon and Kevin were out there,” Thornton said. “There’s not many snaps to play out there when Jevon is healthy and Kevin is healthy.”
He had practiced a bit at the position last year before a shoulder injury derailed his 2001 season and landed him on injured reserve. But, for the most part, Thornton considered himself a tackle, and a starter at that. Now, he’s found out that playing end isn’t so bad, and he is more than willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.
“It doesn’t matter. My whole thing is I just want to play,” Thornton said. “With Jevon hurt, I knew there were more opportunities to play at end, and that’s why I really didn’t care. I don’t really care as long as I’m in the game.”
His selflessness was not lost on his position coach Jim Washburn, who considers Thornton the perfect type of role model youngsters like Hall and Albert Haynesworth should be patterning their work habits after.
“He’s unselfish and he’s smart,” Washburn said. “He went out there and gave up his starting tackle deal, and there were guys in there that could beat him out — and he wasn’t afraid of it. He did it because he’s a team guy. He did a nice job. He had a total of 15 or 16 tackles in two weeks.”
Actually, the move to end wasn’t a first for Thornton, who had played the position in high school and his freshman year at the University of West Virginia.
“My first year in college I was an end, but every year in college, I moved closer and closer to the ball as I got bigger,” Thornton said.
Now, he can line up either as a bigger defensive end or as a quicker-style defensive tackle. For the time being, Thornton will get to be a little of both. What are the major differences?
“It’s a lot harder to rush the passer inside. Guys slide so quick. You can think you’re rushing against a guard and you end up rushing against a center. So many different people can block you inside,” Thornton said. “There are so many different combinations and it can happen so quick. I think your footwork is far more important inside.
“At end, you just get to run and I think at end, if you put in a lot of effort, you’ll make a lot of tackles. I made seven tackles a game out at end, and at tackle I made about three a game.”
Washburn, not one to throw praise around lightly, is simply glad to have Thornton has one of his pupils.
“He’s just a rock solid, steady guy and does everything he can,” Washburn said. “He does everything he can to study the game and to be a good football player, which he is.”
Running back Eddie George returned to practice and showed no signs of Wednesday’s knee and ankle sprains suffered near the end of practice.
“He was better. He felt better. He went through the whole practice. He’ll be OK,” Fisher said. “When we looked at it on tape, he got his ankle pinned, so it could have been a lot worse.”
Middle linebacker Randall Godfrey was again a spectator because of his sore ankle, while fullback Greg Comella remains sidelined with his dislocated shoulder.
Backup linebacker Frank Chamberlin may be limited to special teams duties because of a broken left hand that is in a cast, meaning that rookie Rocky Calmus is looking more and more likely to start at middle linebacker Sunday.