FOXBORO, Mass. — Before training camp, we threw around the idea of shifting Gary Guyton to outside linebacker in a way to get the Patriots' most talented linebackers on the field at one time.
However, Guyton has done a sound job with Jerod Mayo on the inside, and Guyton got off to a blazing start at camp before suffering a knee injury during Sunday afternoon's practice.
Since Guyton has taken up residence on the inside, we figured it would be best to put the speculation to rest and just ask head coach Bill Belichick: Could Guyton play outside linebacker, or is he simply too valuable on the inside to move him?
"Gary is a pretty versatile player," Belichick said Wednesday. "I think he can do a lot of different things. He's smart. He's big. He's athletic and runs very well, so he's had a variety of roles for us on regular defense and our sub defenses. I wouldn’t rule it out, but he's done well inside. He's made a lot of progress over the last two years.
"I think, this camp, he started at a higher level than he finished last year — good offseason, more confidence, a better understanding of the defense and offensive play recognition, those kind of things," he added. "I think he's in pretty good shape where he is, but could he play out there? I think he would be competitive out there."
Clearly, Belichick had some high praise for Guyton, but it sounds like he'll remain on the inside of the 3-4 defense unless things (here's that speculation again) just go haywire on the outside. Or, of course, if Brandon Spikes or Tyrone McKenzie become too valuable to take off the field.
Originally, we suggested moving Guyton to the outside because the Patriots are loaded with talented inside linebackers, and they're a work in progress on the outside. For now, Belichick is giving rookie Jermaine Cunningham a lot of reps at outside linebacker, and it's probably going to take a few preseason games before we see where Cunningham really stands. After all, contact is somewhat limited at practice, and it's tough to judge an outside linebacker if they can't go full bore against the tight ends and tackles.
Guyton's speed is what truly makes him an intriguing option on the outside, so that was also brought to Belichick's attention.
Would it be fair to call Guyton the Patriots' fastest linebacker? Well, Belichick had another interesting answer.
"There are probably other linebackers that would not be willing to just concede that, so I don’t know," Belichick said. "We've never put them out there in a race. I mean, he runs well. I think there are other guys at the linebacker position that also run well, and they probably feel like they're the fastest. I don’t know. Speed can be measured in a lot of different ways, and for linebackers, there are not a lot of 40-yard dashes like there are for corners and receivers. A lot of it is probably more 20 yards, and a lot of it is five yards. And a lot of it is sideways, not forward. No doubt about it, Gary runs well. He's certainly one of the fastest linebackers on our team. I think we've got other guys that are in that same range. If he's faster, they're close. If they're faster than him, he's close."