Commentary

The pressure is on Arizona to make the playoffs in 2008

Arizona has a QB battle, a new stud receiver, a new coach and a promise putting pressure on the team in 2008.

Originally Published: February 22, 2008
By Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.

This has been a solid organization for a long time with a great fan base, but in recent years the Rattlers have been in a downward spiral. They missed the playoffs in two of the past three years and things don't look much better in 2008, as they tear apart the roster and practically start over. Arizona has won two AFL championships, in 1994 and 1997. Plus, the Rattlers promised to return their season-ticket holders' money if the team doesn't make the playoffs, which puts a lot of pressure on the Rattlers to bring the community a winner.

Coaches and front office

This is a new staff, just like the players, as Kevin Guy takes over the head-coaching position. He is an AFL veteran who has a reputation as a defensive guru after running the vaunted Sabercats defense the past two seasons. Skip Foster will run the offense and he is widely regarded as an excellent playcaller and he has a great track record of producing productive QBs. Tony Bowick will coach the special teams and defensive line after a 13-year career as a player in the AFL. Kani Kauhi will handle the offensive line and he has an extensive background in the CFL as a coach and he was an 11-year NFL player.

Key players

QBs Jeff Smoker and Lang Campbell -- This is a very interesting battle to replace Rattlers legend Sherdrick Bonner (Chicago). Both have starting experience, but neither is a proven long-term producer. Smoker threw for 3,446 yards and 49 TDs, but with 17 interceptions, a year ago for Nashville while Campbell played for Austin and threw 41 TDs with 11 interceptions and 2,279 yards a year ago.

WR Siaha Burley -- He was the AFL offensive player of the year in 2007 with an eye-popping 166 receptions for 2,125 yards and 49 TDs. He has great hands and if his rapport with either one of these QBs is good, he will put up huge numbers.

WRs Jerrian James, Kevin Nickerson and Trandon Harvey -- This could be an exciting complementary trio to Burley if they jell quickly. James caught 63 passes for 13 TDs a year ago for Orlando. Nickerson had 90 catches and 11 TDs for Austin, and Harvey had 101 receptions and 30 TDs for Arizona and was named to the All-Rookie Team.

DBs Keyuo Craver and Isaiah Trufant -- Craver was second in the AFL in tackles in 2007 with 113 and not only is he physical, but he does a great job of closing on the ball. Trufant is a free agent from Kansas City with 53 tackles and four interceptions a year ago, but he also had a whopping 19 passes broken up.

DL Wendall Gaines and DL Aaron Humphrey -- Neither is real flashy, but both are physical and they play with a good motor. Gaines is more of an inside penetrator, while Humphrey is more of an edge pass-rusher.

K Jason Witczak -- He spent the past two years in Nashville, but he is a solid and dependable kicker and should post decent numbers.

Player to keep an eye on

WR Walter Young -- He has a couple of years of experience in NFL camps and also NFL Europe, but this is his first experience in the AFL. He is big (6-foot-4, 220 lbs.) and physical and his coaches think he might have a good chance to be an effective red zone target. He is certainly a tough matchup for smaller DBs.

Outlook

This is a roster that has gone through a drastic offseason make over. They have 30 new players in training camp and only six guys from a year ago are still on this roster. That includes QB Sherdrick Bonner, who was the signal caller for this team for 14 seasons, but he now plays for Chicago. If that wasn't dramatic enough, the team's front office has guaranteed their season ticket holders they will get a refund if the Rattlers don't make the playoffs!

They were very active in the offseason and the acquisition of all-world WR Siaha Burley from Utah should be a huge upgrade, but who will get him the ball? Both current QBs, Jeff Smoker (formerly of Nashville) and Lang Campbell (formerly of Austin), have starting experience but neither are proven commodities. The Rattlers will play hard and they will be well coached with head coach Kevin Guy running the defense and Skip Foster calling the offensive plays. They have a chance to have a good passing game because of their receiver corp, but with questions at QB and both offensive and defensive lines, the playoffs look out of reach and that guarantee to the fans right now looks like it will backfire.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.