Rattlers return intact for another ArenaBowl run

If it weren’t for Jacksonville Sharks quarterback Aaron Garcia’s last-second heroics in the 2011 ArenaBowl, the Arizona Rattlers — whose season opens Saturday at home against the Philadelphia Soul — would be looking at the prospects of a three-peat. And when the only significant loss from your championship squad is your kicker, chances are you’re in pretty good shape.

Playing in the league’s toughest division did little to slow down Kevin Guy’s eventual ArenaBowl champion Rattlers last year, and the team looks to be just as strong coming into this season.

Quarterback and 2012 ArenaBowl MVP Nick Davila led the team to a 13-5 record and the second-ranked offense in the AFL in 2012. And a receiving corps that was one of the best in the league should be even better in 2013. Not only do top targets Maurice Purify, Kerry Reed, Trandon Harvey and Markee White all return, but the Rattlers also added last season’s top two rookie receivers in Rookie of the Year Jared Perry and Tysson Poots.

Odie Armstrong also returns at fullback after recently re-signing; however, with perhaps the deepest receiving corps in the league, the Rattlers won’t have to worry much about the ground game. Reigning Offensive Lineman of the Year Kyle Young is a free agent, but second-team All-Arena center Bill Eisenhardt was acquired to soften the blow of Young’s potential departure.

Arizona’s stingy defense will still be led by a strong pass rush that features Cliff Dukes, Anttaj Hawthorne, Marcus Pittman and Tyre Glasper. The secondary is particularly talented as well, with holdovers Arkeith Brown, Marquis Floyd and Virgil Gray all returning to the desert. The team also added All-Arena defensive back Jeremy Kellem through free agency.

The Rattlers will again have to run the scheduling gauntlet in the West, but with very few holes to fill, Arizona appears to be in the driver’s seat. Depending on how well the team fares within its own division, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see 2013 end the same way 2012 did — with the Rattlers hoisting the Jim Foster Trophy.

2012 RECORD: 13-5 (won National Conference West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012 (defeated Philadelphia in ArenaBowl XXV)

COACH (RECORD): Kevin Guy (53-27 overall, 52-24 with Arizona)

OFFENSIVE STAR: Maurice Purify, WR (1,932 receiving yards, 46 touchdowns, 128.8 receiving yards per game)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Arkeith Brown, DB (83.5 tackles, 10 interceptions, 21 pass break ups)

2012 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 2nd overall (3rd passing, 7th rushing), 4th scoring (62.1 ppg)

2012 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 13th overall (15th passing, 2nd rushing), 2nd scoring (48.9 ppg)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR Jared Perry (Chicago), WR Tysson Poots (Utah), C Billy Eisenhardt (Chicago), DB Jeremy Kellem (New Orleans)

KEY DEPARTURES: K Chris Gould (Iowa)                

KEY FREE AGENTS: FB Odie Armstrong, C Kyle Young, LB Kevin McCullough, DB Dwight McLean

MARQUEE MATCHUPS: Philadelphia (Week 1), at San Jose (Week 14)