Guyton gladly takes promotion
He excels in middle management
FOXBOROUGH - Their paths couldn’t have been more different.
The road Jerod Mayo took to the NFL wasn’t necessarily smooth, but at least it was paved. He had the SEC pedigree, leading the conference in tackles in his last year at Tennessee. The buzz around him grew as the draft process played out. Word was that Mayo was “athletic’’ and “instinctive,’’ assets that meshed with his speed and explosiveness.
Gary Guyton is fast, but in his case it didn’t much matter. Of the 34 linebackers invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in 2008, which included Mayo, Guyton had the fastest 40-yard dash time. But the buzz just wasn’t there. He had flown under the radar at Georgia Tech. Even after the combine, the line on Guyton was “there are questions about his speed at the pro level.’’ Thirty linebackers heard their names called the weekend of the draft. Guyton wasn’t one of them.
To this day, he really can’t figure out the logic, other than accepting the idea that people see what they want to see. “Some people like BMWs,’’ he said. But disappointment was just a distraction. The goal was to find a way into the league, and in that sense, his road to the NFL was a back road.
“It’s always ‘What do I do now?’ mode,’’ Guyton said. “I’m not a dweller. It’s just, ‘What’s the next step? What do I have to do now?’ It does me no good to be sad. Just keep it going.’’
The 49ers were interested in talking to Guyton, but within days of the draft, Guyton was on the phone with Bill Belichick. The Patriots took linebackers Shawn Crable in the third round (who has yet to play an NFL game) and Bo Ruud in the sixth (who was on injured reserve last season and was waived in April).
Belichick asked Guyton a few questions while he had him on the line. By the end of the week, the Patriots had Guyton signed.
And there they were, Mayo and Guyton, at the intersection between the paved road and the back road. Mayo, the third linebacker taken in the draft, was a rookie just like Guyton. They might not have been in the same position on the Patriots’ totem pole, but their paths brought them to the same place.
In a year, Mayo transformed himself into one of the leaders on defense, but tomorrow the Patriots will play the Jets without him. A sprained medial collateral ligament has sidelined Mayo for 6-8 weeks. Guyton will play in his place, taking on every responsibility, right down to wearing the green dot on his helmet, marking him as the player relaying the calls from the coaches.
Will Guyton be able to fill Mayo’s role? From the team’s perspective, the answer is simple.
“Communication is the key to defenses being sound, and I think Gary showed that he can do it,’’ said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. “The coaches have shown by him being out there that they’re relying on him and trusting him to get the job done and we’re glad to have him.’’
But explaining how Guyton could go undrafted and end up where he has is more difficult.
“That’s one of the questions he asked me,’’ Belichick said. “And that’s a hard one to answer.’’
Belichick went so far as to say picking Ruud over Guyton was a “mistake.’’
And with the direction of his defense resting essentially between Guyton’s ear pads this weekend and not Mayo’s, Belichick sounded confident he was putting his trust in a player who earned it.
“I have a lot of respect for a player like that,’’ Belichick said. “Especially when, as it turned out, we drafted Jerod in that same draft and those two guys I think really became close and spent a lot of time together. Their paths eventually met at the same place but they came from about as far apart as you could come - top of the first round to undrafted.’’
Guyton met Mayo at the combine, but only in passing.
“Everybody was there just doing their own things at the time,’’ Guyton said. “You meet people over a few times, you just talk to them, see how they are.’’
They got closer once they were on the same roster. Mayo had a reputation for being a film rat, and Guyton often would join him watching tape.
“The time and the hours we spend in here, you have no choice but to get close to somebody,’’ he said.
When Mayo went down in the first quarter Monday, there were conflicting feelings.
“You see Jerod laying down, it’s like, ‘That’s my boy. That’s my teammate. That’s my friend,’ ’’ Guyton said. “But you’ve just got to get ready and go.’’
Guyton’s work ethic is a brand all its own. It goes beyond the football field. At the end of last season, he went back to Georgia Tech and worked as an office assistant at the school’s research institute.
“At a desk, writing papers, shredding paper,’’ he said. “I was just a regular office assistant.’’
It’s the type of work ethic that Hinesville, Ga., instilled in Guyton, and he brings it with him to Foxborough every day.
“He’s smart, well prepared,’’ Belichick said. “He understands. He’s got a real good understanding of football. The running game, the passing game. He’s good in coverage. He understands defensive adjustments. Not just his role but where other people have to be. That’s what you really want in a defensive signal-caller, someone that understands how it all works.’’
They’re the qualities that went unseen the first time around, not just by the Patriots but by the league. The things that make Belichick say, “I’m really glad we have him and it worked out.’’ And it’s the reason Guyton’s glad his path brought him to this point.
“It’s been a long road,’’ Guyton said. “I have come far. I’ve achieved some things here. I’m happy. I’m enjoying it. But I don’t look back as much, just always forward.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.