Back in 2002, the Colts changed their entire franchise when they roped in Tony Dungy as their new head coach. He changed the culture almost immediately, and part of that change was getting then-President Bill Polian to draft high character players who didn't necessarily have size, but were rather 'run and hit' types.
One of those players was David Thornton, a linebacker drafted in 2002 in the fourth round out of North Carolina. Almost immediately, Thornton was a contributor. In 2003, he had his best season as a pro, earning 145 tackles and two picks from the WILL backer position.
Easily, Thornton was the best WILL backer this team had under the Dungy regime.
He left Indianapolis in 2006 via free agency, and to this day Bill Polian refers to Thornton as 'the one that got away.' He went to the Colts' AFC South rival, the Tennessee Titans, and was quietly their best linebacker from 2006-2008. From 2002-2008, Thornton missed only two games, and was a tackling machine.
Today, news broke via our friends at Music City Miracles that Thornton has retired after ten years in the league. Thornton said this in a statement:
"My love & passion for the game will never waver, but I am confident that this is the right decision for me at this time."
Thornton was a class act for both the Colts and the Titans. While players like Cato June, Clint Session, Tyjuan Hagler, and others have come through Indy playing the WILL spot, none were as good as Thornton.
Best of luck to him in his retirement. I would not be surprised to see him in the coaching ranks soon either in college or the pros.