Dale Thomas is three weeks away from joining full training
Round one is 10 weeks away, there's a lot of water to go under the bridge
COLLINGWOOD coach Nathan Buckley expects star midfielder Dale Thomas to return to full training in three weeks, but he remains in doubt for round one.
Thomas participated in stationary drills minus the moon boot, but was still hobbling heavily as he took part in the club's training session at Gosch's Paddock on Wednesday morning.
He had ankle surgery after the end of the 2012 season.
"He's progressing well and getting a lot of touch inside," Buckley said.
"But round one is 10 weeks away, there's a lot of water to go under the bridge."
Buckley said the club would need to monitor Thomas' workload carefully before making any decisions on his availability for the start of the season.
During his recovery, Thomas has specifically targeted adding strength to his frame in the gym and maintaining his fitness on the exercise bike.
"We believe 'Daisy’s' going to be thereabouts [for round one]," Buckley said.
"[But] he still needs to get some solid work on the track in preparation before we can even contemplate playing him. But that’s all going to happen in the future."
The attitude of fellow midfield star Dane Swan has been the subject of recent public scrutiny, but Buckley was quick to leap to the defence of the 2011 Brownlow medallist.
"His skinfolds are hitting the mark, his training intensity has been fantastic and he had a great camp in Utah," Buckley said.
"Swanny doesn't need to be separated from the rest of our group, and yeah, there has been a lot of commentary on it."
Buckley revealed the Magpies have placed a strong emphasis on improving the defensive side of their game this pre-season, after identifying that rivals were scoring too heavily against them during last season's review.
"We allowed too many scores per percentage of inside 50s and we allowed too many inside 50s. So it's definitely a focus of ours," he said.
The ruck is one area the club bolstered during the off-season, adding young ruckman Brodie Grundy with pick No.18 in last year's draft, along with veteran Ben Hudson to complement the pairing of Jarrod Witts and Darren Jolly.
"Witts has been up and running and he's been very good," Buckley said.
"[Jolly] has had a great pre-season and he's in really good nick at the moment and Ben Hudson has been fantastic. He brings a bit of mongrel and I think already that's starting to rub off on our younger talls."
Ben Guthrie is a reporter for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter @AFL_BenGuthrie