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Kellem's return just what Rattlers need

Matt Loeschman
Friday June 10, 2016

Welcome back, JK.

That was the first thought on the happy minds of Rattler Nation last Wednesday when 2015 Defensive Back of the Year Jeremy Kellem announced he was returning to Arizona and the Arena Football League gridiron.

Talk about just in time.

Through 10 of 16 regular season games, the Arizona Rattlers stand at 7-3 and are still in control of the National Conference with a two-game cushion. They sit just a game back of both the Orlando Predators and Philadelphia Soul for best record in the eight-team AFL (although Orlando and Philly both hold head-to-head wins over Arizona).

But Arizona has been riddled with a massive laundry list of injuries to key players.

Head Coach and General Manager Kevin Guy should be commended for keeping the squad together and consistently winning despite having to shuffle lineups on a weekly basis.

“At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game,” Guy said last month.

But even he could not have seen this coming. At some point in the 2016 season, these Rattlers players have missed significant playing time due to injury — Kerry Reed, Arkeith Brown, KJ Morton, Luis Vasquez, Bubba Chapman, Leon Mackey, Dimetrio Tyson, Cliff Dukes, Joe Matthews, Anttaj Hawthorne, Demar Dorsey, Markus Smith and Lamar Mady.

Even kicker Kenny Spencer, signed to replace struggling Alex Zendejas, could only make it three games before pulling up lame. Zendejas returned the next week.

We won't see Reed until 2017 as he suffered a gruesome knee injury and is lost for at least the rest of this season. The Rattlers are missing the versatile Reed on both sides of the football but especially at jack linebacker, where he took back two interceptions for touchdowns this year.

Vasquez, Hawthorne and Tyson are ferocious pass rushers now missing from the lineup although Dukes has returned from an injured reserve stint to help stabilize the defensive line.

Multiple injuries in the secondary had me wondering whether Kellem, who was living a happy non-football life, might be tempted to come back to the Rattlers.

Always known as a “team guy,” Kellem picked up the phone and called Guy.

“He wanted to help us,” the head coach said.

If Kellem can quickly get back to his 2015 form, it could be a season-turning move for Arizona. He didn't claim last year's award for best defensive back for no reason — Kellem's cover skills are phenomenal and he has some of the best hands in the league. In 2015, he snagged a league-high 14 interceptions in 18 games and made the hit on San Jose's Reggie Gray that, if called correctly as a forced fumble and Kellem recovery, would have propelled Arizona to its fifth straight ArenaBowl with a shot at a fourth consecutive championship. Following the last month of games, we know the Rattlers need to learn to win on the East Coast. The game at Orlando was disappointing, the contest at Philadelphia was frustrating but what occurred at winless Tampa Bay was an outright debacle.

But I think getting Kellem back is a big step in getting the “championship swagger” back to the desert. There's been times this season where the Rattlers looked pretty lost, especially on defense. Kellem's return, along with the leadership that comes with it, will provide a huge boost.

Although Kellem said this week his return may not be permanent, Rattler Nation is hoping (maybe praying) that he sticks around for the long haul.

Welcome back indeed, Mr. Kellem. As usual, your timing is perfect.

Matt Loeschman is the business editor/city reporter at the Williamson County Sun and a color commentator for SHN Sports in Georgetown, Texas. As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he bleeds burnt orange but is also an avid fan of the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Stars, Texas Stars, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo and Austin Aztex. With nearly 20 years of experience in print journalism and radio, Matt has covered sports ranging from high school to the pros along with local news. He has followed the AFL since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter @MattLoeschman.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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