Finding the Right Path in the Arizona Desert
In the game of football, change happens in a number of different ways, although the most obvious is on the field. Here in Arizona, the Rattlers have seen their share of change of the past couple of seasons, with unprecedented changes with the roster and coaching staff. Thereís always the potential for more change, but itís the blending of the old and the new that seems to have started them on the road to success.
After an 0-3 start to the season that left doubts about their prospects in 2006, the Rattlers have run off a 4-1 record to pull even at .500 midway through the season. With the struggles of the entire Western Division, Arizonaís 4-4 record is good enough for sole possession of first place.
Rattlers fans got their first glimpse of some exciting young talent two weeks ago in Arizonaís 60-57 win over the Orlando Predators in the form of offensive specialist Darrell Jones and defensive specialist Eric Damond. After a slow start that led to a 17-3 deficit, Jones electrified the crowd with the first of his two kick returns for a touchdown, which showed why the coaching staff was anxious to get him into the lineup.
Damond, who made a big contribution with a key interception, was brought on short notice after the Rattlers placed defensive specialist Wendall Davis on injured reserve. Damond spent time with the San Jose SaberCats last season with current Rattlers defensive coordinator Mike Church, so he wasnít a completely unknown quantity.
Continuing the trend of young players making big contributions, wide receiver/defensive back Curtis Fagan, another recent addition to the lineup, made two big touchdown grabs in the fourth quarter of that game.
Then, this past week, Jones filled in full-time for injured offensive specialist Damien Groce and provided a spark on offense with two long first half touchdowns in a Rattlers 47-33 over the Las Vegas Gladiators that ensured sole possession of first place in the Western Division. Damond also played a big role in the win, as did Art Smith, another newcomer at defensive specialist who filled in for defensive specialist Joe Todd, a late scratch for the game in Las Vegas.
In general, despite injuries throughout the lineup, itís been a defense that has come to the table with stops and timely turnovers that stands out, particularly in the past three games, all wins. At the same time, players like Jones and Fagan, along with veteran quarterback Sherdrick Bonner and veteran wide receiver/defensive back Randy Gatewood, have provided enough offense to win.
Now the Rattlers get another shot at the Los Angeles Avengers, who handed Arizona a season opening 40-31 loss that kicked off their 0-3 start. After rotating between quarterbacks Ryan Van Dyke, now in Grand Rapids with the Rampage, and Brian Mann, the Avengers have settled on rookie Sonnie Cumbie from Texas Tech. Cumbie has helped key their past two wins which have enabled the Avengers to improve to 3-5. Heís also been able to rely on offensive specialist Tony Locke, who missed the season opener, and wide receiver Kevin Ingram, who has been making his case for another Ironman of the Year award.
With the promise the Rattlers have shown of late, they are poised to make the next step and a win over the Avengers would help solidify their hold on the Western Division before they take to the road for games against two more division rivals, the San Jose SaberCats and Utah Blaze. And if the past few weeks have shown us anything, itís that this new crop of players has the potential to win now.
Patrick Daly has been an Arena Football League enthusiast since he first stumbled across the late-night ESPN broadcasts and has followed the Arizona Rattlers since their inaugural season in 1992. He graduated from Arizona State University with an engineering degree and is currently a member of a web development team for Direct Alliance in Tempe. Patrick currently resides in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona with his beautiful wife, son and a very large football helmet collection.