How Coach Brad Scott is changing the Essendon Bombers

Assuming there have been too many unrewarded runs over the past year, the Dons are focusing on a revamped structure – where players are stationed – rather than simply saying “run harder both ways”. With Scott overseeing the shift, Blake Caracella, as defensive coach, was handed that priority portfolio.

That undersized Jayden Laverde is still being asked to man Leviathan forwards like Tom Hawkins and Tom Lynch underscores the need for protections.

Scott’s man management philosophy will be to focus on players’ strengths for who they are may do instead of what they can’t do.

However, if Darcy Parish is better at winning the ball than running back, there will be minimum standards and a balance between playing to their own strengths and the demands of the team.

2. New roles for Heppell, McGrath, Caldwell

Regardless of whether Dyson Hepppell continues as a skipper, as Scott likely hinted at, the veteran has been moved from center defense to the wing, where Scott wants the veteran’s experience.

Andy McGrath, who was forced to play more frequently in midfield last year due to injury, will return to a running half-back role that seems to suit him.

Jye Caldwell was used in the match sims as a tagger/run-with player in midfield, and is said to share that role with Carlton’s recruit Will Setterfield, who can man larger enemy guns.

3. A fresh look at fitness and injuries

Scott has brought in Peter Blanche, the former Brisbane Lions fitness coach who worked at Essendon until 2017, as a fitness/high performance advisor.

While Blanche is only part-time, he was hired to provide a fresh perspective on Essendon’s conditioning program and to mentor the staff.

Essendon had a string of injuries in the preseason, most notably with the greats Peter Wright (calf), Sam Weideman (square), James Stewart, Nik Cox (back) and Zach Reid (back), with Jake Stringer (leg) also sidelined light.

Thankfully, Wright, Weideman and Stringer have all recovered and will play Gold Coast next week.

4. Zach Reid’s injury schedule and significance

Few players have more on their shoulders – and Essendon’s ability to get him in the park – than third-year defender Zach Reid; Given the lack of size of Laverde et al. there is an urgent need to find and/or develop a real great defender.

In fact, it’s arguable that Reid is most a crucial missing piece in the Essendon mosaic as the 200cm high back was designed in 2020 to fill a long-term need.

Talent undisputed, to date Reid’s body has been uncooperative. He was grounded with back stress fractures this preseason and probably won’t play again for another month. Such is his long-term value that the Bombers and Scott are treating Reid with care, knowing that if all goes well he should be around for another decade. Cox had a similar injury and is a little further along in his recovery.


5. The development agenda

The Bombers have increased their developmental coaching ranks from two-and-a-half to five-and-a-half. Ex-Magpie Premiership player Travis Cloke, beloved ex-Essendon key defender Michael Hurley and Scott’s resilient and feared former tagger at North Ben Jacobs have been added to the developmental coaching brigade.

AFLW Senior Coach Natalie Wood will also assist in the development of the AFL roster. Brent Stanton has been upgraded to full-time and Cam Roberts will lead development operations.

Scott has inherited a signed and well qualified cohort of line coaches in Daniel Giansiracusa, Caracella, Dale Tapping and the veteran Leigh Tudor who coaches the VFL.

Jacobs will add support for coaching mids, while Cloke will support forwards and Hurley will support defenders.

Essendon is judged externally not only on wins and losses, but also on the growth/development of the players, whether the game plan is effective and whether they can avoid the 2022 failures.

How you lose is just as important as how often you win.

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Ryan Sederquist

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