The Arizona Rattlers will begin their 25th season of competition Friday night.
They’ll still play their home games at the “Snake Pit” — aka Talking Stick Resort Arena.
They’ll still be dressed in black, copper and turquoise uniforms.
But to say this season is business as usual for the Rattlers couldn’t be further from the truth.
Much has changed for the franchise, including the league it plays in. The Rattlers, after nearly a quarter-century of membership in the Arena Football League, left to play in the Indoor Football League — a circuit in its ninth year that is centered mostly around smaller, midwest markets.
The AFL will continue in 2017, but only has five franchises remaining after a few teams (LA, Portland and Orlando) shuttered operations.
Many of the familiar names that helped power the Rattlers to three AFL titles and four ArenaBowl appearances over the last five seasons have also moved on.
“We’ve only got like three or four guys back,” head coach and general manager Kevin Guy told Doug and Wolf Tuesday morning as part of Newsmakers Week on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “We were going to have to make those changes anyway. We had a pretty good run with the core guys we’ve kept together for the last six or seven years.
“Those guys were getting older and the majority of them said that last year was their last year anyway, so we were going to turn the roster over anyway. The transition has been fairly easy.”
There will be changes to the type of football fans will witness from the Rattlers as well. The IFL features a more traditional brand of football, even though it’s still played indoors on a 50-yard field.
“The offenses are going to look more like college offenses with the spread offenses,” Guy said. “So you’re going to see the inside-outside zone reads and the power trap. There’s going to be more of a running game involved…it’s about 50-50.”
The Arena Football style was more of a passing attack. For instance, the Rattlers threw on 82.6 percent of their offensive snaps in 2016, when they lost to Philadelphia in the ArenaBowl. Last year’s IFL champions, the Sioux Falls Storm, only threw on 43 percent of their offensive plays.
Another big change that will take some getting used to for longtime Rattlers fans is the absence of the kicking nets, which have been a staple of the AFL game since its inception in the mid 1980s.
“We’ll be kicking off like normal,” Guy said. “I kind of liked the nets. I told the league I thought this would be the perfect product if they took these rules and then added the nets.”
The Rattlers start their season Friday night in Sioux Falls against the Storm, who have won the last six IFL championships.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Guy said. “We were 10-0 last year at home and I attribute a lot of that to our fan base. They make it a very tough place to come in and win. We’re going to put another great product on the field this year.”
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