New England Patriots to Watch This Preseason: Gary Guyton

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New England Patriots to Watch This Preseason: Gary Guyton
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

He could revolutionize the way fans see the New England defense.

Many thought a lack of speed contributed to New England's collapse against the Colts after holding a 21-3 lead in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. Late in New England's 2007 18-1 season, commentators often criticized their defense as old and slow.

Even though the Patriots ranked No. 4 in defense that year, commentators thought the lack of speed, especially among the linebackers, left New England vulnerable in the passing game.

New England made some moves which might have changed that perception in 2008. Instead, a rash of injuries had Roosevelt Colvin (once considered a fast linebacker) and Junior Seau coming out of retirement to finish the season.

This is what makes Gary Guyton so intriguing. Prior to the 2008 season, New England did add speed at linebacker. In the first round, they took Jerod Mayo, timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In the third round, they grabbed Shawn Crable, 4.6 in the 40.

Yet, their fastest rookie linebacker in 2008 wasn't even drafted.

Gary Guyton ran the 40 in 4.4 seconds. That's blazing fast for a linebacker. Compare that to Rey Maualuga of USC, one of the top middle linebacker prospects in the 2009 draft.

How fast did Maualuga run the 40?

Give up?

It was 4.9. That's a HUGE difference in the 40.

Hold on there. If Guyton runs so fast, why wasn't he drafted?

Could it be some poor analysis? Take Guyton's combine report for example. It referred to Guyton's 40 time as pedestrian even while the 40 results showed that he was the fastest linebacker at the 08 combine. The report also questioned his athleticism contrary to results which displayed exceptional athleticism.

You'd think teams looked at the actual 40 time rather than a report's mischaracterization of it though.

Could it be size?

No, Guyton stands 6'2" and weighs 245 lbs. That compares favorably with both Maualuga and with New England's 2008 first rounder, Jerod Mayo. Plus scouts believed he was capable of adding another 10 lbs without losing speed. 

Could it be flaws in his game? Scouts did say Guyton lacked instincts and didn't read run/pass keys well. Some said he wasn't aggressive enough. 

I don't know. Playing special teams in college, I saw him throw a devastating block which also demonstrated his great speed. Remember, look for the block, not the tackle, near the 40 by No. 58 in the gold uniform. He sure didn't seem to lack aggression throwing that block.

Of course, that doesn't address problems in reading his keys. That's something which probably lowered his draft stock. Coaching could help Guyton improve his reads and reactions.

There was something else though which really made his stock plummet, straight out of the draft.

Strength.

Guyton performed horrendously on the bench press test, getting only 15 reps with 225 lbs. By contrast the top performer at linebacker got 29 reps. An inside linebacker has to be strong. In New England's 3-4, they're expected to take on guards.

Some say Guyton did better at his Pro Day. However, it wasn't by much. Guyton's Pro Day result was 16 reps.  

Belying the bench press results, scouting reports also said that Guyton displayed strength and power handling blockers and that he did well in the weight room.

Assuming the worst though, strength can often be more readily improved than speed. By the start of the 2009 season, Guyton will have been in New England's strength and conditioning program for well over a year.

The Patriots believed they could still land Guyton while saving all their draft choices for other players. The draft ended, and Guyton remained available. New England made him their top target among undrafted rookie free agents.

A few other teams also reached the same conclusions New England did about Guyton, and there was a brief race to sign him. At one point it was announced that San Francisco landed him. The report was wrong. New England prevailed.

At Georgia Tech, Guyton had played outside linebacker. He started as the strong side (SAM) linebacker, but later switched to the weak side (WILL) linebacker. The Patriots value versatility. They turned him into an inside linebacker. 

While the undrafted rookie didn't seize a starting job the way Defensive Rookie of the Year Mayo did. Guyton did earn a roster spot.

For much of the season Guyton remained behind Tedy Bruschi, one of the most renowned linebackers in New England's history. A former Pro Bowler, Bruschi has also been on the team during five of New England's six Super Bowl trips.

Observers believe that Bruschi has lost a step, but last season, Bruschi's knowledge, experience, leadership, and toughness was enough to keep the starting job.

As the season went on, Guyton saw some playing time, and showed flashes of brilliance in place of Bruschi after Bruschi suffered a season ending injury.

He particularly impressed the announcers of the second Patriots/Jets game on a play where he covered the speedy and dangerous Leon Washington out of the backfield and stayed with him stride for stride.

Guyton started twice late in the season, but didn't play the final two games. He was inactive in Game 15 and suited up but didn't play in the season finale. 

So Patriots fans, if you want something interesting to watch this preseason, keep an eye on No. 59, Gary Guyton. Is he good enough to see more playing time this year? Has he improved enough to win the starting job from Bruschi?

If he earns more playing time this year, Guyton along with Mayo, makes New England much faster on the inside than they were in 2007.

Speed or no speed. Guyton will only be out there if he proves he gives New England the best chance to win. 

Let's see if he accomplishes that or not this preseason.   

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