BRYCE Gibbs has taken his running to a new level this pre-season as he attempts to bounce back from a year he says was one of the most challenging of his career.
After winning his first Carlton best and fairest award in a career-best 2014 season, injury and suspension restricted Gibbs to just 10 games last year.
The Blues vice-captain averaged a respectable 21 possessions in those games, but his output was noticeably down from 2014, when he averaged 25 possessions and regularly imposed himself on matches.
At the Blues' training camp on the Gold Coast last month, Gibbs said he would use the frustrations of 2015 as motivation across the pre-season.
The 26-year-old's desire to get back to his best form has served him well since he returned on day one of pre-season training, according to Carlton coach Brendon Bolton.
"Bryce Gibbs has really pushed himself in the conditioning side of things, he's been running with an elite runner in Ed Curnow," Bolton told AFL.com.au.
"He's probably in the best physical condition he's been in for a long time, so he's been really impressive.
"He's running some PBs (personal best times) which has been a real positive for us.
"That doesn't guarantee anything, but it gives you the right to compete when your body's in good physical condition."
Gibbs seemed set to break into the competition's elite after 2014, when he showed a growing ability to take games by the scruff of the neck. His 29-possession, four-goal return against Geelong in round 12 that year was one of the best individual performances of the season.
Asked whether Gibbs could become a consistently dominant player in 2016, Bolton said: "I'd really like to think that he could. His physical preparation has been a real positive."
"But our footy club needs to rely on more than just Bryce Gibbs and Marc Murphy and 'Kreuze' (Matthew Kreuzer), it's got to become more dense than that.
"Last year's draft was step one to help improve in that area, but it's going to take some time."
Bolton has also been buoyed by the uninterrupted pre-season Kreuzer has enjoyed this summer.
The ruckman/forward rebounded from a horror run of foot injuries to play 13 games from round 10 last season, with his strong late-season form one of the few genuine positives to emerge from the Blues' bleak 2015.
Bolton said Kreuzer's troublesome right foot had given him no problems this summer, as he looks set to complete his first full pre-season in years.
The Blues coach is yet to decide whether the 200cm big man is best suited to the ruck or forward line, but believes his versatility will be a significant asset.
"We know Kreuze is a really high draft pick and he has talent, but we're pushing systems," Bolton said.
"Andrew Phillips, Kreuze, Levi Casboult, Daniel Gorringe are all key forwards who can hit in the ruck, so I think we'll have a mix and a blend of them working as a system.
"I'm going to suspend judgment (on Kreuzer's best position). I want to see him within our system, but I think he can have impact both in the ruck and as a forward because he's so mobile for a big guy.
"When he plays well the team follows him, so let's hope he can hit some really good form this year."