Pirates Preview: Pirates hoping to get into title contention again as season kicks off

The Massachusetts Pirates kick off the 2023 regular season today when they host the Green Bay Blizzard at the DCU Center.

After winning the IFL title in 2021, the Pirates finished 11-6 last season and lost in over time, to the Quad City Steamwheelers, 39-38 in the playoffs.

Despite the disappointment of losing a home playoff game, the Pirates still had a good season when you consider the fact that battled injuries and inconsistency last season. With most of the roster back and healthy, the Pirates are ready to contend for an IFL title again this season.

Here are the five areas we are focusing on.

Stoute takes over: 27 year coaching veteran Mark Stoute takes over as head coach. Stoute was the offensive coordinator last season and was an advisor in 2021 when the team won the IFL Championship. He has head coaching experience as he was the head coach of the Cedar Rapids Titans from 2012 to 2016. He lead them to four-straight playoff appearances. After an impressive 2013 season, Stoute was named the IFL Coach of the Year. Stoute has the pedigree and knows the organization and the players. He will a steadying presence for this team as they look to return to prominence.

Bennifield is back: After missing six games last season, quarterback Alejandro Bennifield is healthy and ready to lead the Pirates on a championship run. Despite the injuries last season, Bennifield still ranked in six of the IFL’s top ten statistical categories for quarterbacks. The veteran signal caller is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is poised for a big season.

Skill intact: The Pirates skill group is still intact and still potent. Bennifield along with receivers Thomas Owens, Issac Zico and Darren Carrington and running back Jimmie Robinson form one of the best skill groups in the IFL. With Stoute the head coach now, this group shouldn’t skip a beat especially with Anthony Payton calling the plays.

New faces on D: Sergio Gilliam takes over as defensive coordinator and he brings a wealth of experience to the Pirates both as a player and as a coach. That experience will come in handy as the Pirates will be breaking in several new defenders most notably in the secondary.

The good news is, Aarion Maxey Penton is back so the Pirates will have a veteran presence on the back end but will still have some new faces that will take time to get adjusted.

Line play: The Pirates should once again be strong along the offensive and defensive line. Justin Morgan, Navaughn Donaldson and Johncarlo Valentin will lead the way up front on offense while the defensive line will feature Joshua Frazier, Jamiyus Pittman and Ezekiel Rose. Both units are big, physical and should be formidable.

Final analysis: The Pirates should once again be in the thick of it in the East and if they stay healthy, they should be in the title hunt for an IFL title. The talent is in place, especially on offense. As always, it comes down to health. If the Pirates can stay healthy, they’re legitimate contenders. If they have to play musical chairs at quarterback again, it will be tough to contend.