The schedule is doing Letroy Guion and the Green Bay Packers no favors.
Guion, who was suspended for three games due to a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, returned to practice on Wednesday. He practiced again on Thursday – the day the Packers usually go full-pads and have some full-contact segments in practice. However, with the Packers coming off a Monday night game, coach Mike McCarthy kept them out of pads on Thursday. Thus, Guion’s first live action since the final preseason game could come in the heat of battle against San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.
“You know, it’s probably not ideal but that’s the hand we were dealt,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said on Thursday afternoon. “We’ll just have to go with it. If there’s a guy who can do it, with the workouts he’s been doing and stuff like that, I think he can.”
Guion is in terrific shape. When he talked to reporters on Wednesday, it looked like he had spent the last three weeks living in the Packers’ weight room.
“Just from the strength and conditioning standpoint, I think he’s in excellent shape,” coach Mike McCarthy said before Thursday’s practice. “Definitely in shape the way he was coming into camp. We’ll see how practice goes, but he looks good.”
Just how good will determine if – or how much – Guion plays against the 49ers. He was arguably the Packers’ best run-stopping defensive lineman last season, when he replaced injured B.J. Raji at nose tackle and started all 16 games. However, the situation isn’t as dire this season.
Raji is back at nose tackle after missing all of last season with a torn biceps tendon. At one defensive end spot, Mike Daniels is one of the team’s top defenders. At the other end, Mike Pennel looks like an up-and-coming player. Just because Guion is back, don’t expect Pennel to become a forgotten member of the unit.
“Mike Pennel, he’s a big part of what we do,” Trgovac said. “He’s important – they’re all important. This doesn’t mean that Mike is going to take a back seat or anything. We just have another guy in the rotation now. That’s really what turn into being. We’ll have another guy in the rotation and Mike’s going to be important to what we do.”
With Raji, Daniels and Pennel leading the charge, the Packers held Lynch and Charles to a combined 90 rushing yards after yielding 141 to Chicago’s Matt Forte in Week 1. The defense had seven tackles for losses on running plays the last two games after getting zero in the opener at Chicago.
“We’ve been pretty physical,” Raji said. “I just think our IQ may be a little up. I have to give credit to the coaches for that. And also our technique has improved a little bit -- drastically since I've been here. That's allowed us to get off more blocks. I don't think there's ever been an issue of physicality. It's been an issue of understanding and execution.”
Now, Guion is back in the mix. Among Green Bay’s defensive linemen last season, he ranked second in tackles, sacks, tackles for losses and quarterback hits, despite missing almost all of training camp with an injured hamstring and playing out of position at nose tackle. Returning after a three-week suspension offers something of a parallel should Guion get thrown right back in the mix on Sunday.
“He’s a veteran,” Trgovac said. “He’s been here working out. Unlike last year, when he was injured and then came back, he hadn’t had a lot of practice reps. He had training camp reps this year and he was working out here the three weeks he was suspended, so he’s in really good shape right now. Always with football, you can’t simulate football with anything. He worked hard in practice this week to get his timing back (but) you’re not going to be perfect the first time you’re out.”
Guion returns to a team that’s 3-0 and firing on all cylinders.
“Very excited,” Guion said. “Most of all I’m excited to get back out there with the fellas and start to play some football.”