2015 Season Preview: Arizona Rattlers
The Arizona Rattlers enter the 2015 Arena Football League season in very familiar territory. Having become the benchmark AFL franchise for the past half-decade, the target is again squarely on the Rattlers' backs. And that's just the way they like it.
2014 in Review
The Rattlers established a dynasty in the desert in 2014, becoming just the second team in Arena Football League history to win three consecutive championships. Arizona ignored all the hype of the “destiny versus dynasty” storyline and completely throttled the Cleveland Gladiators on their home turf to capture their fifth overall title (tied for most all-time). The 40-point domination was the most lopsided outcome in ArenaBowl history.
Arizona started last season by reeling off 14 straight wins, a new league record. The team then admittedly throttled down in the last month of the season but found their familiar form in the postseason. Following a narrow first-round win over the Portland Thunder, the Rattlers played like champions in all facets in dismantling both the rival San Jose SaberCats and the Gladiators.
Quarterback Nick Davila, quickly rocketing up the charts among the greatest AFL signal callers of all time, had his best season wearing the copper and black. During the regular season, Davila torched the opposition for 4,778 yards and 127 touchdowns, completing 66.5 percent of his passes while throwing only 11 interceptions.
Those numbers earned the “Latin Laser” his second league MVP award. He also nabbed ArenaBowl XXVII MVP honors after tossing eight scores against Cleveland. The past couple years, Davila has worked diligently in the off-season to take his game to the next level. Rattler Nation cannot wait to see what Davila has in store for 2015.
The rich got richer this offseason.
Not resting on their championship laurels, the Rattlers brought in two impact free agents in defensive back Rayshaun Kizer and fullback Mykel Benson.
Kizer, an All-Arena selection the past four years, had four interceptions in last year's playoff game against Cleveland and nearly single-handedly carried the Philadelphia Soul past the Gladiators. The lockdown defender's 57 career picks rank third in AFL history.
Benson was an absolute bulldozer in the backfield for the now-defunct San Antonio Talons. A second-team All-Arena choice in 2014, he rushed for 361 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Center Brennan Carvalho, a solid contributor to the 2011 Rattlers squad, returns to provide depth on the line.
One of the keys to Arizona's sustained success is Rattlers Head Coach Kevin Guy, also the team's general manager, being able to keep key players in the desert for multiple years.
“We've been able to get a lot of mileage out of this core group,” Guy told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM in February.
First team All-Arena wide receiver Rod Windsor and first team All-Arena defensive back Marquis Floyd re-signed along with do-it-all ironman Kerry Reed and sack master Anttaj Hawthorne. All-Arena lineman Michael Huey is in training camp and expected to sign a deal soon.
Marquis Maze, a rookie from Alabama, is turning heads in training camp with his ability to return kicks.
With some nagging injuries hampering the receiving corps as the season begins, the Rattlers brought back Markee White to bolster that group. White, a lanky 6 foot 7, previously played with Arizona in 2012 and helped contribute to the Rattlers' first of three straight ArenaBowl victories. The Rattlers also traded nose guard Nicolas Jean-Baptiste to Jacksonville in exchange for physical wideout Chase Deadder (6-5, 230).
Wide receiver Tysson Poots opted to sign with the expansion Las Vegas Outlaws to be closer to his family and where he grew up. Poots caught 85 balls for 26 scores during the 2014 regular season, becoming one of Davila's favorite red zone targets.
Craig Ratanamorn retired, leaving the Rattlers to audition 14 new kickers in training camp. Jeremy Shelley won the job.
The 2015 season will be a success if...
The Rattlers make history and win an unprecedented fourth consecutive ArenaBowl. Anything less is a failure and Guy will be the first person to say it.
“We're going for four,” the head coach said. “We've won three championships in a row and our staff has been working very hard this offseason to put us in position to go for four.”
The expectations for the Rattlers are astronomical but that comes with the territory of winning three straight titles and being one play away from a fourth back in 2011.
“That game still haunts me,” Guy admitted. “It drives me.”
Adding two All-Arena players on each side of the football, all the pieces appear in place for another run at the championship.
Arizona's 2015 MVP will be...
Windsor. Davila is the easy choice, but with playmaking wideout Maurice Purify on the shelf until at least midseason recovering from knee surgery, Windsor is going to get a ton of footballs thrown his way. Poots' departure clears the way for Kerry Reed to be a bigger factor on offense and Jared Perry is practicing at the third receiver slot but look for Windsor to be the main man.
Will Windsor haul in another 193 receptions like he did in 2010? It is unlikely but he will undoubtedly be Davila's go-to guy as the 2015 season begins.
In 2015, the Arizona Rattlers will win...
15 games. Under the new divisional alignment, the three-time defending champions are in the Western Division with the expansion Outlaws and the hapless LA KISS. Arizona will run away with the division (playing Las Vegas twice and the KISS three times) but there is a tough ArenaBowl rematch at Cleveland along with visits to the Snake Pit by the Tampa Bay Storm and Orlando Predators. The Rattlers play the improving Thunder three times as well.
The Spokane Shock lost several marquee players and Deaf Valley may be quieter than usual in 2015. Also lurking is longtime rival San Jose, matching up with Arizona twice in the upcoming regular season.
In the American Conference, the Jacksonville Sharks made several player moves and look to be greatly improved. Jacksonville and Arizona do not meet each other in the 2015 regular season but the two teams could square off with a title on the line.
Guy is looking to take his squad where no AFL team has gone before.
“Two teams in the history of Arena Football have won three in a row — Arizona and Detroit — and we want to be the first to get that fourth,” Guy said.