Guion arrest clouds defensive line outlook

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion celebrates a sack of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on Oct. 2 at Lambeau Field.

Before Tuesday night, there was little reason to doubt Letroy Guion would be back in a Green Bay Packers' uniform in 2015.

The seven-year veteran was a bulldozer in the middle of the defensive line. A run-stopping, pass-rushing force the team desperately needed after B.J. Raji was placed on injured reserve in the preseason with torn right biceps.

His play commanded the attention of his teammates. His locker-room demeanor quickly earned the respect of MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who went out of his way to call Guion "one of my all-time favorite teammates."

It seemed to be only a matter of time before that momentum translated into a long-term extension. However, those talks no doubt stopped Tuesday when Guion was arrested in his hometown of Starke, Fla., on felony possession of marijuana and a firearm.

Guion was released Wednesday afternoon after posting a $100,000 bond. As the legal process starts to take its course, the Packers must take inventory of their defensive line, a position that progressed as the season wore on.

Part of the credit goes to Guion, who outperformed his modest one-year, $1 million deal with a career-high 32 tackles and 31/2 sacks in 16 regular-season starts. The 27-year-old lineman's production and leadership in a young defensive line room made the organization's interest in a reunion no surprise.

You still can't rule out Guion returning, but it's unlikely the Packers bring him back until his situation becomes clearer. Even then, he could be subject to NFL discipline under either the substance-abuse or personal-conduct policy.

Like in August, the Packers again have a significant question developing at nose tackle.

Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji (90) during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

The contingency plan could start with Raji, especially when you consider only one of the Packers' seven defensive linemen under contract for next season is listed at more than 310 pounds (Mike Pennel). No one is currently over the age of 25.

Raji, who'll turn 29 in July, had a career-low 17 tackles and zero sacks during a lackluster contract year in 2013. A lukewarm reception in free agency saw Raji return to the Packers on a one-year deal and a handshake agreement that the team would move him back inside from defensive end.

The former first-round draft pick appeared energized by the move before suffering the season-ending injury in the third preseason game against Oakland. After having the muscle reattached to his elbow, Raji stayed in Green Bay for the rest of the season.

Raji has expressed his desire to return to Green Bay several times, though the 6-foot-2, 337-pound lineman could be facing another one-year deal with incentives. From Green Bay's perspective, it makes him the same low-risk, high-reward investment Guion was last March following his release from Minnesota.

At 6-foot-4, 332 pounds, Pennel is the only other natural nose tackle on the roster. The changes the Packers and coordinator Dom Capers made to the defense no longer require three 330-pound mastodons, but a strong axle remains critical to stopping the run.

Pennel finished his rookie year with eight tackles in 13 games and was part of the four-lineman hippo package. However, he was susceptible to being pushed around when lining up over center in the base defense.

Mike Daniels has been the team's best linemen the past two seasons. He managed 51/2 sacks and his inclusion in run-defense packages allowed him to finish with a career-high 41 tackles, which led the line.

He's the only irreplaceable fixture on the line despite the Packers investing three picks into the position in their past two drafts. Former first-rounder Datone Jones is serviceable, but hasn't played up to his draft status. Third-round rookie Khyri Thornton showed little in camp before tweaking his hamstring and finishing the year on injured reserve with Raji.

Guion's presence helped the Packers hide possible weaknesses on the line, though he started slowly after missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury. Before this week, there's a chance the defensive line isn't a primary topic of discussion as team moves into its draft meetings and this month's NFL scouting combine.

Instead, a position of strength late in the season is now clouded. The Packers have acknowledged Guion's involvement in a "serious matter," but otherwise have been silent.

Rodgers said on his ESPN Wisconsin radio show Thursday that you don't start pointing fingers during these times, but admitted how you must "remember that you represent the Packers at all times."

An NFL source told ESPN's Adam Caplan the handgun found in Guion's track was unloaded in a box and that Guion has a permit to carry it in Minnesota. The same source indicated he was in the process of moving back from Green Bay to his home in Starke.

Guion was in possession of more than $190,000 in cash at the time of the arrest, which the source said was from recently cashed Packers' paychecks. His agent, Seth Katz, told National Football Post he intended to help his family and mother.

"Letroy is a good guy, he loves his family," Katz told the website. "He was down in Florida to take care of his mother, who's sick. There's information that will come out that will offer some explanation to some of what's been recently reported."

Katz offered no comment when asked about the 357 grams of marijuana that was found in the same bag as the cash. Guion's base salary paid him $42,941.17 per week during the regular season. He earned an additional $68,000 in playoff bonuses.

Guion was in prime position to cash in on a career year. Now, the wait starts for him and the Packers.

— and follow him on Twitter @WesHod

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