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Arizona Rattlers set to defend Indoor Football League championship

(Twitter Photo/@azrattlereq)

PHOENIX – Again, the Arizona Rattlers go into a season as the hunted.

It’s a familiar role, and one general manager/head coach Kevin Guy prefers, mainly because it means his team is coming off another successful season.

“We embrace it,” he said. “Year-to-year, we want to be the best team that we can be.”

A year ago, there was no team better than the Rattlers. They won the United Bowl in their first season playing in the Indoor Football League, following a 24-year run in the Arena Football League.

Entering the season as the reigning world champions is nice, but Guy made it clear at media day on Wednesday that the Rattlers have turned the page on 2017.

“It’s always about what this team can do,” he said, adding that more than 50 percent of the 33-man roster has been turned over. “I talked to them about that this morning. They got to go out and earn it. I always tell them, focus on doing things right and all the wins and losses will take care of itself.”

Offensively, the Rattlers return just four starters, led by the league’s top running back in Darrell Monroe, who had 721 yards and 18 touchdowns; the latter of which ranked third in the IFL.

Also back are the team’s Nos. 1 and 2 receivers Anthony Amos and former Arizona State Sun Devil Jamal Miles plus first-team all-league offensive lineman Lamar Mady.

“We got those four coming back, but we got some young guys that are pushing those guys so it should be interesting as the competition heats up this year,” Guy said.

The Rattlers will have a new quarterback this season. Either Verlon Reed Jr. or Jeff Ziemba will be under center when the team hosts the Sioux Falls Storm on Sunday. The season opener kicks off at 3:05 p.m. at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The Rattlers beat Sioux Falls in the United Bowl, 50-41.

Reed Jr. was the Offensive Rookie of the Year — he led the league in total offense and ranked third in both passing yards and total touchdowns — last season with Salt Lake, while Ziemba is in his first season in the IFL.

“They both do things well and we’ll just have to see how they produce as we go forward. We’re going to take it one game at a time like we did last year,” said Guy, who has yet to name a starter. “We made a change four games into the season last year and went on a win streak, so we’ll just keep working and they’ll keep working and we’ll see how they develop.”

On defense, all but one starter will suit back up for the Rattlers in 2018, according to Guy.

Highlighting the returnees are defensive end Chriss McAllister, who finished third last season in sacks with 10, and linebacker Justin Shirk, the United Bowl MVP. All were part of a defense that ranked third in scoring.

“I feel like we’re a lot deeper this year on the roster, depth wise,” Guy said. “We should start the season the season strong on defense and then our offense is going to have to develop.”

Overall, the IFL will look a little different. It’s a six-team league now, down from the 10 that took the field a year ago. The Colorado Crush, Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, Spokane Empire and Wichita Falls are no longer opponents on the Rattlers’ schedule.

“We got to grow the league, but I do think we do have some good, strong, core owners that are left in the league right now. We got to develop the west coast. If we do that — that was one of the reasons why we left the Arena League, there was no more west coast. We love the Arena League,” Guy said.

“But, I like this game even better because it’s more like the outdoor game and I think the players have a better chance of coming in and showing their skill-set and having a chance to move up (due to the variety of offenses). I enjoy it as a coach because there’s a lot more schemes involved where we get a variety of teams and we have to prepare for them week in and week out.”

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