Guion's 'explosive' return boosts young defensive line

Ryan Wood
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Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

Letroy Guion wanted to take things easy, slowly transitioning back to the practice field Monday afternoon.

It was a good plan, in theory. His reps were limited. His rust was excused. After missing the first four weeks of training camp, Guion simply needed a good workout in pads. Nothing too strenuous.

Crouched in a three-point stance, head-to-head against the Green Bay Packers backup offensive line, Guion couldn't help himself. During half-line drills, the seventh-year nose tackle burst into the backfield, blowing up a run play three yards deep.

"I had my adrenaline flowing," Guion said. "I felt very excited to be out there, to be back in the swing of things. I had a couple plays I made out there.

"I felt good, I felt strong. I felt great."

Guion's return Monday was long awaited. After participating in organized team activities and minicamp, the free agent signee from the Minnesota Vikings was forced to watch almost all of training camp from the sidelines, wearing shorts with no pads. His absence was frustrating – for coaches, for fans, but most of all for himself.

After starting nose tackle B.J. Raji was lost for the season with a right biceps tear this weekend, urgency increased. On Sunday, Guion said he felt good for more than a week. He was ready to practice, waiting to be cleared.

"It's always an urgency when a man goes down," Guion said. "It makes me have to step up, having to be that guy. So I'm going to take all my steps forward to do what I've got to do to get prepared."

His return was imminent for two weeks, since coach Mike McCarthy said Guion was "close" to being healthy earlier this month. Still, there was no indication Guion would return until the trainers told him hours before Monday's practice began.

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion works against defensive tackle Khyri Thornton during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

His teammates learned when they jogged out to the practice field and saw Guion in pads.

"I was like, 'What you doing here?'" defensive end Datone Jones said, smiling. "He was like, 'Oh yeah, man, I'm practicing today.' I said, 'For real?' He had some fresh legs, and he looked really good.

"He's a great rusher, he's a very strong guy, and he's faster than what he looks. When me and B.J. Raji watched him in one-on-ones, we were just like, 'Man, this guy has animal instincts.'"

Guion's presence boosted more than the Packers' depth chart.

It was a tough week in Green Bay, with two injuries -- Raji and center JC Tretter -- that'll take some time to digest before moving forward. Guion's re-emergence helped accelerate the process, pumping morale.

"He was flying around, having fun," Jones said.

Guion injured his hamstring while working out at the Packers facility a week before the start of training camp. He called the injury unfortunate, especially as he transitioned with a new team. But he never wondered if he would return to the practice field.

His next step remains uncertain. Coach Mike McCarthy said no playing time decisions for the Packers' final preseason game will be decided until Wednesday, the day before Green Bay hosts the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field.

"We'll take another step further at Wednesday's practice in getting some more reps and keep progressing," McCarthy said. "It'd be foolish to throw him out there and give him a full load."

It may be a stretch to expect Guion to play against the Chiefs after only one padded practice, but Guion said he expects to travel to Seattle. His availability for the opener probably won't be known until next week.

Each day, Guion will be under a rep count. Medical staff will watch him closely, ensuring there aren't any setbacks.

"He looked explosive," McCarthy said. "I really liked what I saw from Letroy. He's coming off of the injury. I thought he got off to a good start. We obviously limited his reps, but I thought he had quality reps today."

No matter when Guion plays his first game in Green Bay, his presence should benefit a young group along the defensive line.

Even before Raji's injury, the Packers' defensive front had more youth than last year. Josh Boyd, who assumed Raji's snaps with the first-team defense Friday against the Oakland Raiders, is entering his second season. Mike Pennel, another promising player in the middle, is an undrafted free agent.

"He's a veteran out there," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "That helps to have another veteran out there because we've got a lot of young players around him. So the veteran leadership that he can show these guys, he's got experience at that position.

"You want a good mix of veterans and youth out there, and I think with us being young, it's good to have a veteran in there."

On the field, the Packers have a good idea what they're getting with Guion. After six seasons with the Vikings, he was brought in this offseason to add depth at nose tackle behind Raji. He's started all 28 of the games he played over the past two seasons, with each of them coming at nose tackle.

Guion said he can be ready for the regular season opener, even if he misses Thursday's game against Kansas City. Ultimately, that won't be his call. Whenever the time comes, Guion said he'll be ready, just like he was Monday.

"I'm very confident," Guion said. "I've been in the league 7 years now, going on this year. I'm very skilled, very talented at the position down there. So I'm going to just go out there and do what I've got to do."

-- or follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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