After the discussion about the front seven, many Vikings fans would be right to wonder about the only new face that has presumably earned a starting position with its once dominant defensive line. A 5th round pick in 2008, Guion fell due to poor combine and pro day results - showing low footspeed and missing the agility drills thanks to an injury. Earlier at Florida State, he took over for an injured Andre Fluellen and played well enough to start - he flashed explosiveness at times, and finished his career with 66 tackles and a sack in 22 starts. Undersized for a nose tackle, Guion's strength and utility were questioned entering the draft.
Not many doubt, however, that the Vikings did get a bit of a steal with Guion. With fewer than 10% of 5th round picks becoming decent starters, Guion's presumed spot proves that the Vikings can occasionally find value in the late rounds. Despite his increasing importance for the team, not many know much about Guion or what he can do for the Vikings. Join me below the jump as we find out more.
Contrary to the perception of his role, Letroy Guion actually took more snaps than anyone else at the nose tackle position in 2011 - even Remi Ayodele, who started most of the games for the Vikings as the 1-technique defensive lineman. Guion never played at an extremely high level, and his play has been marked by inconsistency, but he certainly can play extraordinarily well when focused. His best game was against Chicago in Week 17, where he took over half of the snaps (37 of 59), recorded a tackle and an assist:
In this video we can see quite a bit of burst off the line from Guion, enabling him to draw the double team and funnel the running back (take a look at 0:32 for an example) into favorable running lanes. Despite his combine results, he also shows good speed, which complements his reaction time well. While not likely to be one who chases down a scrambling QB, his speed will be enough to create real pressure on passing plays.
Here and in other games, I didn't see him take many or any plays off - he played hard and until the whistle without playing dirty. The first play has him recovering the fumble on a play where the refs had ruled the runner down by contact; that recovery led to the turnover. It's not necessarily impressive; players are told to do that, but it still shows an awareness of the game that a lot of defensive players don't necessarily always have.
He attacks gaps well and with aggressiveness. As someone who is a little small to play nose tackle (6'4" 303 pounds), I'd prefer him to play as a penetrating 3-technique than a run stuffing 1-technique tackle. He knows to get low, and can generally get leverage on his plays. Despite his size, he has an effective bull rush, and will often display the hand work needed to prevent the guard or the center from locking down on him. He likes agility moves more than anything else, but still needs to develop a more complete roster of speed and technique moves before he becomes singularly deadly in this aspect of his game.
At 2:07, you can see the danger of lining him up with one blocker. He creates pressure by blowing by the guard and forcing Hanie to step up into the sack.
Despite low agility, he stunts fairly well, drawing blockers with him or creating pressure. Later in the game (I couldn't upload the full video - it's at 10:32 in the 3rd quarter) you see his stunting draw a triple team, allowing Kevin Williams to grab the sack. While this has more to do with poor line communication by the Bears (I wonder if they miss Olin Kreutz) than anything else, being able to execute good play design is an important skill.
On running downs, we don't see as much of his prowess, but he almost never gets pushed downfield by a single blocker. He has some strength issues, but makes up for it with good fundamentals - he'll on occasion move double teams with him, and even pushed the triple team I described earlier into the backfield. His size is not usually an issue, and can often rush through his gap with effectiveness. Still, he's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.
Take a look at one of his poorer games, against the Redskins one week earlier:
Here you can see a number of his issues crop up to a greater degree. He hasn't been able to shake the "inconsistent" tag he got coming out of FSU, and here we can see why. It's not a terrible game for him, but the Redskins did effectively take him out of the game in many ways. We saw this a bit in the Chicago game, but perhaps Guion's biggest problem is his inability to quickly read the play before and right after the snap.
He'll line up correctly on a number of alerts, but can be tricked when the offense moves out of their tendencies. For example, he lines up narrow on run alerts, shading over the center just a bit more than usual (a true 1 instead of anything close to a 2i) - but when the Redskins call a pass play, he'll disappear.
This isn't all bad news, though - he plays as a quintessential 1-technique at 0:43 and 2:01, and controls his gap. Still, he gets pushed out of plays far too often, and exhibits poor lateral release.
His biggest problem, however, is play and scheme recognition. While he has issue with pre-snap reads, his issues with playfakes are even larger. Guion is victim to overpursuit on plays and will be well known for biting on play fakes if he continues this trend. This usually means he is subject to getting thrown out of the play on draws, and a nonentity on play-actions.
I've also found that he doesn't recognize blocking schemes very well. More important for a nose tackle, than an undertackle, the Vikings often must rely on Greenway to make line adjustments (which is not unusual), rather than their 1-technique. This creates problems from time to time on generic pass and run plays, but will create greater problems on play fakes, counters, and stretch plays.
Poor angles and overpursuit are not small problems for our nose tackle - they'll sometimes result in very serious gains made by an opposing offense. This same tendency of his also makes him vulnerable to traps and not very useful on screens. It is generally odd to see big differences between a player's reaction time and a player's read ability, but Guion is apparently unique in this respect. His quick reaction time (and his confidence in his intuition) makes up for his poor read ability, but unless this improves, he may be a weakness in our defense.
Moreover, Guion's play is marked with irregular performance - he displayed fantastic burst in the Chicago game, but was slower off the mark in the Redskins game. I'm not entirely sure what causes this problem, but it does need to be fixed. It is hard to imagine focus is a key issue here, as he does not take plays off and will constantly work to make the play. Beyond that, he will flash excellent technique with his hands on more than one play, and be lazy with his hands on another. His inability to release quickly from blockers makes this a concern as well, and could impact his talent for drawing double teams.
His knock coming out of the draft seemed to have been poor footwork, but I didn't notice this as an issue for him in 2011. Instead, he has issues with his hips that place him a little out of position on tackles, and enable cuts by running backs or scrambling quarterbacks. This isn't a large concern - he'll usually make contact in these situations and has OK tackling technique, so will more often than not bring down the ballcarrier. Improvement here, however unlikely, would provide definite marginal value, though.
His command over his body is probably better than most average defensive tackles in the league, and he certainly has great physical tools, but they are neither extraordinary nor troubling. He has some work to do on stamina, given that he gasses out after about 30 snaps; he gets fatigued more often than other players in the same position.
He was already an average nose tackle last year, and there's every reason to believe he'll improve. I don't expect an enormous amount of improvement in play-reading (it's been a problem for years), but I imagine the Vikings staff can work on his consistency issues. The greatest opportunity for improvement, however, probably will be adding to his armory of techniques and moves. He's been a good penetrator despite a small moveset, and can increase this capability in the near future. This might also resolve the "lazy hands" issue we see on a number of plays and could go a long way towards generating respect in the run game.
Ultimately, Guion has limited upside, but hasn't reached his ceiling yet. I enjoy that we have him, but I personally see an excellent 3-technique hiding underneath everything he does. If we replace Guion, not Williams, with a fantastic nose tackle in the near future, moving Guion to a pass-rushing, penetrating undertackle could have profound effects - it would reduce the importance of lateral movement and play reading, and take advantage of his pass rushing skills. It might also resolve his stamina problems, but I'm not sure. At any rate, Guion is a good player to have on the team, and can certainly start - he's already better than a number of nose tackles who start in the NFL and I don't see NT as a weakness in the very near future. If Guion can improve his play-reading ability by any large degree, I'm confident we'd return to the run-dominating defense we have been in the past.