ALREADY bearing a heavy load on his young shoulders, Carlton star Patrick Cripps wants to join the ranks of Nat Fyfe and Patrick Dangerfield as a goal-kicking midfielder in his third season.
Cripps is a certain starter in Thursday's season opener against Richmond at the MCG after spending three months on the sidelines with a stress reaction in his lower back.
The 22-year-old has fast become among the Blues' most important players as they enter the second year of an aggressive list rebuild.
But he is determined to take his game to the next level, identifying Brownlow medallists Dangerfield and Fyfe and Western Bulldogs prodigy Marcus Bontempelli as players he hopes to emulate.
"I want to get forward a bit more this year and try and hit the scoreboard a little bit more," he said on Tuesday.
"If you look at the elite midfielders in the comp – Dangerfield, Fyfe, Bontempelli – they kick goals.
"I think if midfielders can start kicking goals that really hurts the opposition and definitely puts scoreboard pressure on them."
Scoring is one of a number of areas the Blues must improve this year if they are to silence their doubters, with most pundits and bookmakers tipping a bottom-four finish.
Playing as a full-time onballer, Cripps booted 10 goals last season compared to Dangerfield's 24 and Bontempelli's 26.
With Matthew Wright's 22 majors leading the Blues' tally – the lowest return of any club's leading goal-kicker – it's little surprise they struggled.
Cripps should receive more midfield support this year from skipper Marc Murphy, who played just 10 games last year, as well as Geelong recruit Billie Smedts.
Sending Cripps forward more often could also reduce the risk of his back injury flaring up again.
But the Perth native shrugged off concerns about the niggle, saying he was confident he would get through the season without problems.
"I think it's important in footy to still play to your strengths, which is clearance work and contested ball, so that's what I'll be looking to do on Thursday night," he said.
"It's one of those things where I got onto it really early, which was a positive. Early on there's a chance it reoccurs but once you get through that first six weeks and it looks good, which mine did, you're pretty safe from there on in."