It’s a big year with Colts for a smaller Hugh Thornton

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ANDERSON, Ind. – There’s less of Hugh Thornton this year, but the Indianapolis Colts’ veteran guard was impossible to miss as he pulled his shirt over his head to reveal one of his recently-added tattoos.

It’s a massive lion, its majestic mane stretching from shoulder to shoulder and  commanding face extending from neck to waist.

The latest addition to Thornton’s body of tattoos took 27 hours to apply.

It also represents the disposition of someone heading into his fourth season, one that essentially is make or break in nature.

“That’s a top-five animal on the planet,’’ Thornton said Sunday. “That’s how I plan on playing this year, like a lion.’’

To be accurate, he’ll be playing like a lion that has rebuilt itself.

When Thornton reported to Anderson University last summer, he put 340 pounds on the scales.

This time?

“I reported at 313,’’ Thornton said.

The difference was striking: a leaner, more sculpted frame.

“My decision,’’ he said.

The offseason makeover was a result of Thornton doing some soul searching. His three seasons with the Colts had been a mix of success and setbacks, inconsistency and injury. He’s started 32 of 37 regular-season games, but a myriad of injuries – left elbow, right shoulder, sprained right knee, most recently a right foot that forced him to miss the team’s offseason work – contributed to him being in and out of the lineup.

Thornton frequently has been working with the No. 1 unit at right guard, but that’s subject to change. He’s sharing training camp reps with Denzelle Good and Jon Harrison.

“I see it as wide open right now,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinksi said.

He was asked if there’s a fine line between having competition at right guard as opposed to having a set unit that can use the preseason to develop.

“The number one thing for me is to make sure we’ve got the right five,’’ Chudzinski said. “If you don’t have the right five, you’re going to have continuity, but you don’t have the right five and at some point down the road that’s going to hurt you.

“So it’s getting the right five as soon as we can, and that’s a process.’’

Similarly, it’s been a process as Thornton has prepared for what could be a career-altering preseason.

It seems clear the coaching staff wants him to secure the starting position. But failing that, does Thornton even make the 53-man active roster? The 2013 third-round pick is due a base salary of $1.671 million.

Shortly after using their first-round pick in the April draft on center Ryan Kelly, the Colts jettisoned Khaled Holmes. The 2013 fourth-rounder had been declared the “center of the future’’ on several occasions.

“I don’t see it like that,’’ Thornton said. “I’m confident in my abilities. I’m confident what I can do and what I bring to the table.

“If it doesn’t work out here, it works out somewhere else.’’

Thornton’s commitment to make it work in Indy played a role in a lifestyle change during the offseason, but it went much deeper than that.

“I just wanted to slim down a little bit,’’ he said. “It’s easier on the joints, for longevity in the league, just to feel healthier.’’

Thornton hired a personal chef and greatly changed his eating habits. He used to eat sparingly and in larger amounts. He never ate prior to a practice – “I hated to practice on a full stomach,’’ he said – and that occasionally resulted in him feeling light-headed during workouts.

A normal day during his revamped offseason would have him consuming about 3,000 calories. Prior to that, he was a frequent visitor to Ted’s Montana Grill on Indianapolis’s northwestside.

“I think I lived at Ted’s Montana Grill. It’s good,’’ Thornton said. “I’d eat a lot of bison and pot roast. Now, I don’t really have a lot of carbs after lunch.’’

His new regimen involves smaller portions several times a day.

“It’s breakfast, snack; lunch, snack; dinner, snack,’’ Thornton said. “It helps out with being able to train a little more.

“I’m happy with what I did. It’s the best decision I’ve made to slim down and be healthier.’’

He’s sleeping better, feeling better overall.

It remains to be seen if that translates into a better player, someone who is able to secure a starting position along a revamped offensive line.

“Obviously every player wants to be a starter,’’ Thornton said, “but I’m here to help the Colts win a championship. Whatever they need me to do, I’m here to fill that role.’’

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