GREEN BAY - In his own inimitable way, defensive lineman Letroy Guion will be one of the more compelling players on the field Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Vikings were making more than a business decision in March 2014 when they released Guion. The new coach, Mike Zimmer, saw enough on tape and heard enough from team officials to know he didn’t want Guion on the team.
Zimmer didn’t think Guion had the mental acuity to play for him and his complex defense. The organization, exhausted from dealing with his numerous off-field issues, large and small, agreed.
Guion was the Vikings’ nose tackle after the great Pat Williams, beginning in 2013 and ’14 to round out a six-year career that began as Minnesota’s fifth-round draft choice in 2008 from Florida State.
He had been on the street for almost two weeks when the Green Bay Packers signed him to replace aging Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly.
On that same day, wide receiver James Jones landed a free-agent contract with the Oakland Raiders. In one combined story, Jones was the lead in the Journal Sentinel over the developments regarding Guion.
As it turned out, the acquisition of Guion, even though his signing bonus was a mere $100,000, was the more significant story. One team’s trash can become another’s treasure, and that surely has been the case with Guion.
In Linval Joseph, the Vikings might have the NFL’s finest nose tackle. They regard his backup, Shamar Stephen, as an upgrade over Guion, too.
Has the 29-year-old Guion played any differently in the Packers’ 3-4 base defense than he did in the Vikings’ 4-3 base defense?
Several times over the past two years, personnel men for NFC North teams have said there is no discernible change.
“Same guy, really,” said one of the scouts. “He’s strong. He’s still hard to move. Not a quick processor. He’ll get shocked.”
When some of those same personnel people selected the all-division team for the Journal Sentinel in recent years, Guion generally has ranked near the bottom at nose tackle.
In 2012, Guion tied for second place with Pickett behind Detroit’s Nick Fairley. In 2013, ’14 and ’15, he finished in last place.
By now, the book on Guion has become crystal clear.
He’s thick (6 feet 3 1/2 inches, 325 pounds). He has long arms (34 7/8 inches). His primary attribute is strength; his primary weakness is his reactions.
He can use his hands to maul a center in one-on-one situations. He will occupy double-team blocks and hold his ground. He penetrates on occasion. He can jolt a blocker with his punch and separate in single-block situations.
He isn’t effective recognizing diverse blocking schemes. He gets washed down or cut on outside runs. When stunts designed to stop the run are called, he isn’t always assignment-sound. If tired, he plays too high.
His pass-rushing skills and repertoire of moves, other than a bull rush, are negligible.
In 2013, late in Guion’s last season for the Vikings, an NFC North scout said: “He has some explosion to him. He can be disruptive. Thing is, he plays hard and then disappears.”
Twelve months later, as Guion’s first season for the Packers wound down, the same scout said: “Same guy. He flashes every now and then, and then he just disappears. His pad level is too high at times and that’s why he can be rooted out and displaced.”
Yet, the Packers have re-signed Guion, once to a two-year deal with $400,000 guaranteed and again in February to a three-year deal with $500,000 guaranteed.
They drafted Kenny Clark to fill B.J. Raji’s berth in the middle, but Guion far outperformed the rookie in August. Even in the sweltering conditions of Jacksonville, it was apparent by the order of substitution that the coaches trust Mike Daniels and Guion far more than three others inside until Mike Pennel returns from suspension in Game 5.
It’s remarkable that Guion has lasted this long with the Packers despite a pattern of behavior that would test any NFL team.
Late last season, one of Ted Thompson’s friends in scouting circles looked ahead to whether or not the Packers would even offer Guion a new contract.
“He’s probably not Ted’s type of guy,” the executive in personnel said. “But they (Packers’ scouts) are all fighting for him to come back.”
Coaches and front-office people who have dealt with Guion just kind of chuckle when his name comes up.
”Love the kid,” said one source. “He’s just so funny.”
Everyone in Minnesota has a story about Guion. There are the numerous times he lost, or misplaced, his cell phone, his keys, his wallet and his paycheck. It happened routinely on road trips, including several to Lambeau Field.
During his years in Minnesota, Guion was involved in a number of incidents, both civil and criminal, including alleged mistreatment of women. In Green Bay, he was sued by his landlord in De Pere last year in small claims court in an attempt to evict him, and in May he was cited for fishing without a license in Oconto County. In Florida, his driver’s license has been suspended and/or revoked multiple times, including once while he was a member of the Packers.
Nearly $25,000 in fines, presumably the result of penalties assessed by the team and the league, were assessed against Guion in 2014 even though he was with the Packers for less than 10 months. Players often are fined by clubs for being late to meetings or buses, lost playbooks, etc.
His three-game NFL suspension to start the 2015 season was the result of the incident in February 2015 when he was pulled over by police in Florida and almost three-quarters of a pound of marijuana, a handgun and about $190,000 in cash were found in his truck.
It would be so easy for the Packers to say goodbye to Guion and the baggage, just as the Vikings did.
But for now, at least, Guion plays, and plays hard, for a team that appears incapable of making do without him.