AS HE embarks on his second season in charge of the Western Bulldogs, Luke Beveridge agrees with the general consensus his side is a "great unknown" heading in to 2016.
After making an unexpected finals appearance last year, questions remain over whether the Bulldogs are still a team on the rise or a genuine premiership contender.
The key defensive stocks, the ruck and a reliance on the club's veterans are the major queries, but a solid pre-season and NAB Challenge campaign has given Beveridge an optimistic outlook.
Ask the coach: Luke Beveridge
"It's the great unknown, but people understand we're going to be a handful when they play against us," Beveridge told AFL.com.au.
"Everyone is after validation (at this time of year) and you think you're in good nick, but until you start playing in the season proper you don't find out."
A week out from a season opener against Fremantle, the heart-breaking 2015 elimination final loss to Adelaide highlighted the Bulldogs need for someone to stand up and take the league's power forwards each week.
Promising youngsters Fletcher Roberts and Joel Hamling couldn't contain Taylor Walker that night and the Crows' skipper led his team to victory with a starring performance.
The club bolstered its key defensive stocks at the draft, bringing in big-bodied recruits Marcus Adams and Kieran Collins.
With Roberts and Hamling having indifferent pre-seasons, the mature-aged Adams looks set to make a well-deserved debut on Dockers' champion Matthew Pavlich.
"I don’t see our stocks as a weakness, I see that position on the ground as having a question mark over it," Beveridge said.
"None of our guys have established themselves as seasoned key defenders yet, but I've got full faith that they will.
"But's there's definitely a question mark until someone puts the position in a headlock."
The ruck was a three-way wrestle last year, with Will Minson, Jordan Roughead and Tom Campbell all unable to find the consistency to make the position their own.
Ruckmen from other clubs were enquired about in the off-season, but Beveridge is confident strong competition between the big men will bring out the best in them.
"Selection will purely come down to who deserves to be there, and not so much who we play or where we are playing," he said.
"And we don’t want Tom Boyd to play 80% of his time in the ruck, or anywhere near that."
Beveridge hopes Tom Boyd can develop down forward rather than in the ruck. Picture: AFL Media
While Beveridge doesn’t want him consistently going head-to-head with the likes of Nic Naitanui and Shane Mumford, he does want Boyd and the rest of the club's impressive batch of youngsters to start carrying more of the load.
With veterans Bob Murphy, Matthew Boyd and Dale Morris all in the twilight of their celebrated careers, the coach is looking for generational change.
"If they can get somewhere close to what they did last year it would be nice, and hopefully there's another season or two for those three," Beveridge said.
"But we expect our three to six-year players to have a desire to influence everything at the football club.
"There's no doubt this is happening, and it's intriguing because it's quite a powerful thing, but we're inpatient and we'd like it to happen sooner (rather) than later.
"I've seen some really good signs, so the club is in good hands."