Letroy Guion moved only a few feet on the defensive line, but it could be one of the biggest moves of his career.
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings had the soft-spoken Guion backing up Kevin Williams as their three-technique defensive tackle and Remi Ayodele as their nose tackle. Guion ended up playing more than Ayodele, even if he wasn't listed as the starter, and during the offseason the Vikings made the decision to release Ayodele and re-signed Guion to a three-year deal that could be worth as much as $9 million. They are paying him like a starter and Guion is getting the opportunity to concentrate solely on being a nose tackle.
The Vikings' move prompted a change in offseason routine for Guion.
"I had to go back to the drawing boards and back to the weight room and work out and change up a little bit," he said. "At the nose, it's a little more close-quarter combat and a little more quicker movement and you had to come out of your hips a little faster and strike a little differently than the three-technique. But overall it was a good transition for me. I love the nose position and think I'll do really well at it."
Guion made his debut as the full-time starter at nose tackle in the preseason opener, but it didn't take long and he sprained his posterior cruciate ligament, putting him on the sideline for the second preseason game. Still, in the small sample size he flashed some ability.
"Two or three plays is not a whole bunch to see, but you know what, the play that he went out on was a fantastic play," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "We have preached great hustle all of the way through, and on that play he was down the field making a tackle and that is the thing that he has shown through OTAs, through the camp, that he is stout up the middle and he runs well enough to make tackles on the sideline. So I'm pleased with how he is coming along, feel sorry that he is out right now, but that gives the next guy a chance to come in a show what he can do. We are looking forward to the next guy up, and looking forward to that guy playing winning football."
That next guy was Fred Evans, who started against the Buffalo Bills last Friday, with similarly positive results. He and the rest of the Vikings defense effectively shut down the Bills' running game and left in the second quarter feeling good about their performance.
This Friday, facing the San Diego Chargers in the preseason game where the starters typically get the most work, Guion could be back in the lineup. That determination hasn't been made yet, but he returned to practice on Monday and is feeling good about his role going forward.
He actually lost about 20 pounds because of a newfound dedication to get stronger playing nose tackle.
"I'm strong enough to hold a double team and stout enough. I play the position good enough to cover the A gap," Guion said.
"This offseason, I just dedicated myself to work hard and be more focused while I'm working on my body and I'm feeling good right now, so it feels like it's paying off."
He went from about 332 to 310 pounds and saw his strength increase. That could be good for a run defense that was first or second in the NFL for four consecutive seasons before slipping the last two years.
The change from Ayodele to Guion could help the Vikings improve there, but improvement there will come from discipline as much as personnel changes, according to Williams.
"It just depends if we're going to play consistent football. I've always said we're not too far off last year and it had nothing to do with talent, it just had to do with guys paying attention to detail and being in their run gaps and just executing the defense," the defensive coordinator said. "If guys do that, we'll be a top-10 defense; we just have to make sure as a coaching staff we're in tune to making sure that guys are detailed about carrying out their assignments. That was the biggest difference with this last week, guys stayed in their gaps, we tackled well and pursued to the football."
Guion's job is being made easier with an established cadre of teammates on the defensive line. Between Pro Bowlers Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, along with second-year starter Brian Robison, Guion is feeling good about the position he is in.
"It's awesome, man, playing next to Kevin, Jared and B-Rob. The best feeling I had since I've been playing football ever in my life," Guion said. "I'm very excited and I'm looking forward to being next to those guys in the starting lineup and playing with those guys and celebrating with those guys as we get sacks and tackles for losses."
Last year, in his most extensive action on the defensive line, he got accustomed to the speed of the game on a down-in, down-out basis. He also learned how to locate offensive tendencies based on alignment.
This year, Guion is looking to put that all knowledge and offseason dedication into practice and channel it on one position.
"We think by settling him down and saying this is your position, he should be a pretty good nose tackle for us," head coach Leslie Frazier said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Guion loses weight, increases strength
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