MINNEAPOLIS — When the big payday came, Letroy Guion’s motivation spiked.
You might not remember the afternoon the Vikings locked up the athletic defensive tackle for three more years. It was March 13 with free agency opening across the NFL.
Some of the bigger playmakers on the market, such as Reggie Wayne and Cortland Finnegan and Vincent Jackson, made major headlines with their respective signings.
Yet for the Vikings, Day 1 of the free-agency frenzy passed with little splash.
The only notable deal they finalized was the $9 million contract extended Guion’s way to keep him around through 2014.
That offer came with a promise: Guion would be used exclusively at nose tackle. The Vikings also delivered a sincere nod of approval, letting Guion know they saw potential for him to experience a major breakthrough in their system.
“That deal let me know how much they believed in me,” Guion said Wednesday. “It shot my confidence through the roof.”
Six months after re-signing, Guion is not only making Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman look brilliant, he’s working harder than ever to improve, continually impressing the coaching staff with his weekly preparation.
Last week, in the Vikings’ 20-13 win at Detroit, Guion was a disruptive force throughout. He recorded two sacks and two quarterback hits and helped the defense limit Detroit to 55 rushing yards.
And while Guion might not be the second coming of Pat Williams, he has certainly been an obvious upgrade over Remi Ayodele, whose one season with the Vikings in 2011 was a flop.
Big man, big plays
Guion’s emergence this season has been sparked by his increased dedication, something all those around him have noticed.
“Before he was the backup and he wasn’t as locked in as he needed to be,” said fellow defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
“You can see it now. He’s locked in.”
Kevin Williams used to engage in a weekly competition with Pat Williams, the two tackles competing to deliver the better overall performance each game.
The results of their bragging-rights bet were determined by the final grades delivered by the coaching staff, measuring statistical production, hustle and proper technique.
Now Kevin Williams has brought that same contest to Guion.
“It’s given me a chance to talk trash,” Guion said. “I keep telling Kevin I’m going to knock him out of the water this week. I like the competition.”
Added Williams: “He’s getting after it right now. I told him he tore me up this week. He was all over the place.”
The big plays are starting to add up. Last weekend’s first- and fourth-quarter sacks of Detroit’s Matthew Stafford were drive killers.
A week earlier, Guion got his right hand on a 43-yard field goal attempt by David Akers just before halftime, a clutch block that helped propel the Vikings upset.
Pay for play
Guion’s rapid ascension can be linked to the way he’s taking care of his body.
At the coaching staff’s request, he dropped about 15 pounds over the offseason, trimming down to the playing weight (315 pounds) where the Vikings feel he can be most effective.
“As time went on, he bought into it,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He realized it was for the best. This is what we thought we needed at the position.
And (defensive line coach) Brendan Daly has done a very good job of explaining to him why we wanted him at a certain weight and what it would do for our team and for him as well. To his credit, he’s worked at it. He’s kept his weight down. It hasn’t been an issue. It’s right where we wanted it to be. And the results are in his play.”
Guion admits he has more energy and doesn’t fatigue as fast during games.
As for any complacency that could have snuck in after he re-signed with the Vikings in March, the 25-year-old lineman has responded by channeling his thanks in the right direction.
Said Frazier: “I expressed to him that the way to show your gratitude is to be a pro about your business, about what you have to do on the football field. And he’s spent a lot more time in the classroom and studying and preparing for opponents. It’s showing up on the field.”
Added Guion: “It changes your priorities. It changes your heart. When your coaches and teammates believe in you, you owe it to them to pay them back. I want to prove that I’m worth every penny they gave me. And I want to prove that I’m worth more than that in the future.”