Managed to get down for my first session of this off season. Stayed from the start until about 10:30 when I had to duck off.
I'll give a rundown of the session I saw and then go through each player at the end (it will be the only way for me to remember what I thought about them all!)
Rehab: Tomlinson - walking laps, Baker - walking/jogging laps, and a grouping of Jones, KK, Hannan and Bradtke. Jones does look grumpy about being in this group. None appeared overly encumbered. Hannan perhaps a little but he has an odd gait. Tom Mac no show, though he did appear later before I left. Spargo & Bennell unsighted. A few extremely looking fit umpires running the boundary - more on that later.
Started with warm ups and run throughs - nothing much to comment on here other than to say I enjoyed the work of the trainer (not sure it was Burgess). Loud, clear and funny too, had the boys in good spirits to start the session. We seemed to have a couple of random players training with us - not sure of names, background etc. Lockhart seems to struggle with the warm ups and exercises. Think he is far from a natural athlete.
They then moved on to some kick to kick, but in groups of 4. 2 pairs kicking to each other, with the aforementioned training balls with the yellow line down the middle. One player marks and hands off left or right to the player who immediately hits up the target with a short kick. I know some of you will love this - but there was an emphasis on kicking with the wrong foot every 2nd kick or so. Fair to say there were some average skills here from all and sundry. Reports of Rivers' kicking appear far overstated - he is a long way off Fritsch levels to whoever said that. Pickett too, is not as natural on his wrong foot as previous reports led me to believe. Jackson on the other hand has very neat skills on his preferred right in particular. There is something there that reminds me of a little less polished Bont (at least in kicking style/elbows/etc). Some of the poorest wrong foot kicking came from Bedford, Sparrow (although his preferred has improved from last year) and Dunkley, all of whom were grouped together hence particularly noticeable. I was too far away from the other groupings to comment other than the draftees who I specifically looked for.
They then broke into groups - Key position players down one end, with the wings occupied by the mids/flankers/pocket players. I was closest to the Key position guys so will start there.
This drill involved a coaching member kicking out from the pocket to a 2v1 situation on the HFF - 2 defenders vs 1 forward. Forwards included Fritsch, Weideman, Petty, a train-with player, and Brown. Backs included OMac, Lever, May, Joel Smith, Hore. The first 2v1 situation seemed to be about one defender engaging while another went third man up. An umpire was on hand calling holding the man if the engaging defender held on too much, which was a good idea (even though the players didn't seem to notice or care when a free kick was called as the drill was moving too fast).
The 2nd defender would then drop off and the forward and remaining defender ran into the 50, pivoted on a cone with the forward leading to the coach on the HFF. If the defender didn't check his man closely enough, the kick would be delivered to the leading forward. This only happened once. If there was not enough separation on the lead, the forward would double back around to receive a high kick at the point of the goal-square, with the defender trying to body and ultimately spoil/outmark. The 2nd umpire was on hand to watch these contests for holding too, and called a couple. In general, there were two stand-out players in this drill - being 1) May and 2) Joel Smith. May is just an absolute brute - he is strong, physical and intense, and with a running jump can fly as well as 3rd man up. Joel Smith is a very impressive athlete - as big (if not bigger) as most of these boys, but also faster and with more spring, reads the flight of the ball well too. He has sure hands and outpointed more or less every forward on every occasion, either punching or marking in a 1v1 vs the forward. Weideman was disappointing - to me he just doesn't have the required intensity to body up and shake clear of his opponent. He always seems to want to take a running jump or simply reach over the top, which didn't work in particular against Smith who just rises too high. I have been prepared to give him time but I have my doubts. The concern for him is that he shows no more than Petty, who is a couple years his junior but appears to have more of the intensity required. If Sam fails to perform this year, I think the coaching staff might just run out of patience. Fritsch was undersized in this drill so didn't star, but he's a fantastic overhead mark as we know, times his leap exceptionally well and positions himself to protect the dropzone. Brown is a funny one - appears much more comfortable with the ball on the deck than he is in the air. Can't jump particularly high. Lever isn't an especially impressive player in 1v1 situations, but won his share of contests purely by getting front position and drawing a free kick. Hore went OK, OMac is just too sluggish (I like him, but this may be his downfall) and the train-with player was a nice athlete too with a good burst of speed. Would have liked to have seen Luke Jackson in this drill though I imagine he would have been rag-dolled.
I then moved to the wing where a group of mids/flankers/pockets were doing some kind of transition drill from end to end involving a player marking the ball from a kick, selling a dummy around the man on the mark and handballing out to a free player, who looked to be trying to deliver kicks clearing a pack of players that I imagine is supposed to represent the 'body' of players in the middle of the ground as we transition out of the 50. i.e. aiming to clear the centre circle ish and go arc to arc. There was some average kicking here from a few - Brayshaw (who was wearing #43 oddly), Langdon, Dunkley in particular. Langdon's kicking isnt great, very high ball drop. Dunkley likewise doesnt appear to have a particularly low or controllable kicking action - struggles to kick with any penetration by my eye. Brayshaw's issue was more of sloppiness than action. Jetta & Oliver looked good in this drill, didn't mind little Chandler either who is neat enough by foot.
They then moved into a sort of semi-full ground match simulation. There was only one scoring end, teams split into training tops vs hi-vis vests. Fair to say the hi-vis team, who were not the scoring team, struggled, although there may have been a deliberate outnumber in certain parts of the ground, it was hard to tell. Due to the vests it was also a little more difficult to tell who was who in this drill. There appeared to be an emphasis on kicking out, then going back i50 and switching to the free side with speed. This wasn't always particularly well done and quite a few poor kicks were intercepted i50 by the attacking team leading to set shots on goal. In particular, one turnover to Weideman's lap who does have a good set shot kick and drilled it. Couldn't see who the culprit was.
The absolute stand-out in this drill was Fritsch. He honestly made it look easy - either presenting up at the ball as a forward, or intercepting the hi-vis team's exit from the back 50 and just strolling into goal. An exceptionally skilled and smart player who has the scope to do very special things in the forward line I think. Other strong contributors in this drill were May, who took one very good pack mark when he had no right to, and I liked Lockhart's work as a small defender. He's tenacious, has good agility, is elusive, and creative by hand and foot. He shares many attributes with Jetta and I can see why they might have him in mind for that role. Because we know he can go forward, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a few 22's during the year as he could be handy to move up forward when we need a goal at the end of games. LJ struggled up forward to be frank - hands to a lot of balls but couldn't quite bring them down. Being matched up on Lever and May is a steep learning curve.
Individual Player observations:
Pickett - Applied decent forward pressure in the match simulation, without ever laying too many tackles or getting much of the ball. Couldn't bring down Viney, managed to bring down Gus on the wing. Early days but I had hoped to see him with ball in hand a little more. Next time hopefully. Didn't seem lightning quick but there wasn't a lot of space to show this off.
Rivers - a very good size that would allow him to play early if good enough. Didn't get overly involved in match simulation but I will repeat that his kicking is perhaps not as good as it has been touted. Kicked twice into the man on the mark. If he's to transition to a mid, will need to improve his speed of thought / hand in contested situations, but like Kossie, early days and he is getting used to the tempo.
Jackson - Very interesting player. I can see why they think he might be a mid long term as he's good below his knees, makes good decisions by hand and is neat by foot. As above, struggled as a forward against the bigger bodies. If he plays early in the fwd line, I wouldn't be expecting much aside from the odd cameo.
Tomlinson - Absolutely massive unit. Would have to be the biggest 'winger' of all time. Walking laps.
Langdon - Does have good running patterns as has been touted, finds pockets of space to receive the ball and got a fair bit of it in the match sim as a result. I like the timing of his late runs into the 50 behind the forwards/backs, was found by Fritsch in the goal square with a particularly raking kick on one occasion.
May - Discussed above - I will only add that he is absolutely crucial to this team. There is no other defender like him on the list and you can see he makes them all walk taller. Very vocal and a leader. My only criticism is that he does everything with so much gusto, he has a tendency to over commit to contests that he has very little chance of winning, and can sometimes leave his man free as a result when he misses the ball or something.
Jones - Rehab, looked grumpy. A lovely left foot kick, was teaching Bradtke to drop the ball lower. Seemed fine and probably not far off.
Salem - Looked his usual self, nothing of note. Skinny legs!
Harmes - Watching him in the Match Sim, I think he is the Hibberd replacement. Similiar players - speed, can shrug a tackle, not easily beaten. A good player who has become a consistent trainer.
Petracca - Other than wearing a funny hat, I did not think he was particularly noticeable. Didn't get a lot of the ball, though had good burst speed when he did. Needs to continue working on making faster decisions when he receives the ball as his indecision allows defensive numbers to get back.
Viney - Looked good overall other than some loopy kicking. But strong in the contest, shrugging off would-be tacklers, and generally involved. Moving well.
Lever - As above, a strange player who isn't overly strong, fast or athletic. Very vocal and a leader though; we are paying him for his brain rather than his body. Prone to erroroneous kicking out of D50.
Spargo - Absent
Brayshaw - One observation above, but not too noticeable otherwise. Just travelling along it seems. Brought down by Kossie when he should not have been.
Gawn - The quietest session I have seen from him. Barely noticed. Good in the contest when called upon.
Bedford - Got a little bit of the ball; he's got spunk which I like. His kicking can let him down though, quite loose action and tends to overhit his passes. Good height for a small forward.
Oliver - Our best player. Good things happen when he gets the ball. Just understands where to kick it, when to run, and how to position himself and his team mates. No particularly outstanding moments but just consistently makes smarter decisions than the rest of the list.
Hibberd - I thought he looked a little more like his 2018 self, industrious coming out of D50 and strong in the contest. A very important player still.
KK - in rehab, barely resembles a footballer anymore in size. Honestly looks like one of the volunteers/trainers running around. I hold little hope.
Melksham - With Fritsch, the most dangerous forward on the ground in the Match sim. Such a good user of his body when the ball is in the air and had quite a few set shots as a result.
Hannan - in rehab. Weird gait, weird player. Can't help but think his days might be numbered if Fritsch continues to star and Melksham holds the other HFF. But injuries, declines or other circumstances can provide his opportunity if he can get fit.
Preuss - Does appear leaner, though lost a little of his imposing presence as a result. Didn't get a lot of ball in the match sim. In no man's land in my opinion; neither a forward, doesn't look like a 1st ruck anymore and doesn't strike me as anything else. I liked his game against Carlton last year though when he was our 1st ruck.
AVB - Our most physical player. Bashed and crashed his way around, including bringing down the non-contact Neitschke. Love having him back. Generally very involved; a full year of him on the park will make us so much better, as we all saw during our 18 finals run.
Jordon - Can't say I noticed him too much but suspect he was playing for the hi-vis team and therefore absent a number. Has no particularly noticeable style, height, hair or hat so he is a tricky one!
Tmac - As above, no show at the start though arrived later in runners. Not sure what the issue is.
Weideman - Some commentary above, in short I have concerns. If he has put on strength/size, it doesn't show in terms of how he uses it. More intensity required.
Nietschke - First I have seen of him and agree with others that he appears to naturally find space and the ball. Not a particularly great user but could have a role one day. Appears diligent if his form during the warm ups / exercises is anything to go by (much more than some other players).
Omac - Some discussion above - I like his kicking skills and like his genuine size, I think he is effective on the gorilla forwards if they don't have much speed. Put space around him though and he's all at sea; if I was coaching the opposition I would be taking him deep to isolate at every opportunity. Got called for quite a few holding the man free kicks in the key position drill because once they get separation, he can't keep up and so holds on. At this point I think we may have seen close to his best in 2018. If May were to go down, he's a serviceable replacement but barely adequate. One thing I did notice is that he is perhaps too 'smart' for his own good - in the key position drill I described above he often wouldn't bother sticking too close to the forward on the first lead because most of the time the leads weren't being honoured; a quirk of the drill given they were trying to practise 1v1 contested marking. He began to double back almost immediately knowing that that's where the drill would very likely end up. Again, in my view this shows his lack of intensity. Nonetheless, he's not the worst depth in the world but not convinced he will ever be a best 22 full back, at least not in a very successful team.
Hunt - I liked what I saw from him today. Seemed to be picking the ball up in the back half and looking a little like his 2017/2018 self running it out of the back half, but pleasingly lowering his eyes. One to watch, could be a quiet improver.
ANB - Not too noticeable, as usual buzzing around the contest to receive exit handballs. Knows his role, has limitations but there is a place for him in the 22 when on song. Brings more energy albeit less skill than the nearest competition for an endurance small flanker (C Wagner).
Fritsch - See above. A beautiful player who made quite a few look silly. Judging by the quality of his forward half intercepting (very prevalent in the time I watched), the time down back may have actually done him some good in this area. Appeared to read the ball coming out very well.
Sparrow - I like his size, speed and power, but he needs a touch more guile or it will all go to waste. When he receives the ball in traffic he doesn't have a heap of composure in deciding how to get rid of it, and bombs it away quite often as a result. As I noted above, in the drills his kicking seemed slightly improved from his first year. He could be something but it's going to take some work; he's one who I think would benefit from consistent AFL exposure with its high tempo. VFL will help too, but won't exactly accelerate his development in his problematic area given you have more time at that level.
Baker - jogging laps. Good size. I am hopeful for him as he showed a bit particularly against GWS at the G last year.
Hore - a very non-fuss player and valuable depth. Bit of a 'tweener but does everything well without ever excelling. Not sure of his future.
Petty - Moves like a big key forward should. He's imposing & heavy. Decent skills during the kicking drills, but barely touched it (that I saw) in the match sim.
Chandler - Busy little player who I don't mind; has a sidestep and can work his way out of trouble. May be too small to make the grade given he doesn't possess the elite skills or pace that supposedly Pickett does. But he's a goer and will give himself every chance of making it you sense.
Jetta - Looked good, free and running well after I have had concerns on his age/body/decline. Early days with a full season of knocks and bruises to come but a very composed leader. Rarely makes mistakes.
C Wagner - Can get the ball on the outside and has OK skills and pace. Looks a million bucks at VFL level but can't match it with the big AFL mids I fear. May one day have a role as a flanker but it's not something he's especially natural at in my opinion. Reminds me of ANB.
Lockhart - As above I liked his work today. Has genuine footy smarts and elusiveness in a way that many on our list do not. Not a natural athlete at all but knows his game. Will play games this year IMO.
J Wagner - Same old. May have been responsible for a couple of turnovers but not sure it was him (hi-vis). Squeezed a lovely kick around the corner to Pickett down the other end. An error-prone player who is depth at best & I think knows he's potentially on his last chance. In his favour is that he seems durable and does not get injured. Growing his hair.
Joel Smith - See above. Loved what I saw in the aerial drill. A bit of a clunky kick but when you watch him in training up close he's an absolute specimen. Would love his groins to stay trouble free and see what he can do with a bit of time in the 1s. Not sure it's the time for that given our ambitions, but he could be a very good player I think. Has a rare athletic profile that many would kill to have.
Bradtke - Rehab. Beanpole. Working on set shots, hit them OK. Stafford working with him on his kicking as he seems incapable of hitting any kind of a low spearing pass (similiar to gawn though). Seems athletic, long way to go.
Dunkley - I watched with interest as I find him difficult to judge. He's a relatively smooth mover over the ground but it kind of translates to his kicking in that his steps/run up don't change when kicking. That sounds good but it's not; it means he kicks in full stride rather than steadying himself with minor adjustments like some of the best do innately. This results in overhit, long kicks (we know he can hit long kicks from his set shot kicking last year). Does seem to be able to find the footy. A weird one, not sure on his future. Those who would draw comparisons to his similarly 'agricultural' brother when drafted would be missing that KDunk does not have Josh's explosiveness. Maybe he can develop it though?
Brown - A few things mentioned above - he's alright. Decent depth. Not a lot of overhead presence but I like his searching leads. Notwithstanding he may all of a sudden become important, I'd like to think he's been signed to force Weideman to step up. Not sure it will work, but I like that idea.
My overall impression was that training was fine. Not amazing, not bad, just training. I remain concerned about our key forward stocks as neither of Weideman or Brown showed much, and Petty is promising but still young and inexperienced at the craft. It's not a particularly strong group though. This was relatively glaring in my view particularly given the absence of TMac, and I think you'll find we still rely on him quite a lot this year at least if he is fit. If he's not, it might be struggle town again.
The positive for the forward line was that Fritsch and Melksham looked absolutely terrific and would give many half back flankers a good bit of trouble. Nothing I saw convinced me that we've 'solved' the forward pocket role, but it's Kossie's 2nd or 3rd week and the drills weren't particularly conducive to small forward play, with the most contested forward 50 ever in the match sim. Our other small forwards are mostly 2nd/3rd year players. Personally, 2018 Spargo is still the best of the lot if he can rediscover his form. His footy IQ was very important to us that year.
Backline looked strong with May, Joel Smith and Lever an interesting combination I haven't previously considered. If a team got picked from today, Joel Smith would be in it.
Midfield is now stocked all through the depth chart, albeit with late / speculative draft choices, so let the best men win. But no one is touching Oliver. Not even close.
That's actually turned out to be quite a long post....