COLLINGWOOD wants to settle Ben Reid into a familiar defensive role in 2015 once it is confident he has overcome his injury problems.
But coach Nathan Buckley told AFL.com.au on Thurday that it would be 'folly' to plan for Reid's return, given the club remains uncertain how long it will take before he is fully fit.
Reid was a key defender in Collingwood's 2010 premiership team and All Australian centre half-back in 2011, but has mainly played up forward in an injury-interrupted 18 months since midway through 2013.
He played just four games in 2014 to be stranded on 99 games and his bad run continued when he was struck down by a calf injury before Christmas.
The setback forced the 25-year-old to travel to Germany in January to seek advice from experts in the treatment of soft tissue injuries and the Magpies have been heartened by his progress since his return.
However, Buckley said the club would take a cautious approach to the 25-year-old's return and was conscious it could not be certain when he would return.
"We feel like the trip to Germany is going to help him and he has come out of that in pretty good nick, but we're 'softly, softly' with that," Buckley said.
"If you are talking about planning … we would love to plan for Reidy, but right now that would be folly."
Buckley said the club's priority was to get Reid in robust enough condition to string together a series of games.
"When that happens we will give him the opportunity to play behind the ball in a familiar role in many ways," Buckley said.
"We feel that is going to be important to us. The qualities that he has brought as an attacking defender is something that we are looking for in our squad."
Buckley said key defender Lachlan Keefe had spent the pre-season training as a forward to provide the Magpies with another option inside 50.
"He adds to our depth and options in the front half of the field," Buckley said.
The Magpies have been over-reliant on key forward Travis Cloke in recent seasons and have been searching for another tall forward to support him since Leigh Brown retired in 2011 and Chris Dawes joined Melbourne in 2013.
Buckley said the decision to play Reid predominantly back didn't eliminate the possibility he could switch forward on occasion.
"Both those players will play forward and back at different times, and that flexibility is something we see as a real advantage," Buckley said.