- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
Eight days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.
Sophomore, Defensive line
6-foot-1, 302 pounds
Fall forecast: After playing in a limited role as a redshirt freshman in 2011, Thornton seems on pace to become more of a regular this season. He has practiced at both nose guard and defensive end and that versatility should help him see the field more often. The Bulldogs have veteran talent at all of the line’s starting spots, but Thornton is part of a fairly large group of youngsters vying for playing time behind seniors John Jenkins, Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington.
Career highlight: Thornton barely played in the first half of last season -- he appeared in just one of the first eight games and recorded an assist and 0.5 tackles for loss against Coastal Carolina -- but he made himself a more valuable commodity down the stretch. Although he recorded just one tackle the rest of the way, he played in the last six games of the season including the SEC championship loss to LSU and the Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State.
Experience thus far: Thornton appeared in seven games last season and recorded two tackles, including 0.5 for a loss.
Possible career impact: That aforementioned group of non-seniors, which includes players like Garrison Smith, Ray Drew, Sterling Bailey, Jonathan Taylor and Kwame Geathers -- should he decide to stay after his redshirt junior season -- should help Georgia’s defensive line remain effective beyond 2012. Thornton could become a key player to watch, particularly if both Jenkins and Geathers are gone next season. He will face competition at nose guard from Taylor and other prospects the Bulldogs might sign in 2013, but Thornton could become a much more important piece of Georgia’s defensive success next fall depending on how the roster shapes up between now and then.
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough