CLEM Smith and Blaine Boekhorst are leading the charge of Carlton's 2014 draftees pushing to play in the NAB Challenge after impressive pre-seasons, Blues football manager Andrew McKay says.
When the Blues recruited Boekhorst, 21, with their first pick in last year's NAB AFL Draft at No. 19 overall, the midfielder loomed as a readymade senior player after three seasons in the WAFL.
However, the fact Smith slipped to Carlton's third pick, No.60, seemed to support the popular view that the West Australian would take some time to adjust to the demands of AFL football.
Smith was named an under-18 All Australian as a bottom-aged player in 2013 and played 10 senior WAFL games for Perth last year.
But his results in the skinfold and endurance tests at last year's NAB AFL Combine were a long way below AFL standards.
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McKay told AFL.com.au on Wednesday the Blues were planning to play "a couple" of their 2014 draftees in the NAB Challenge, with Boekhorst and Smith best placed for a call-up.
McKay said the hard work Smith had put in this pre-season had been extremely pleasing.
"Clem's had the most to improve I suppose. He was the least fit (of the draftees) when he came, but he's improved out of sight, which is great," McKay said.
McKay said Dillon Viojo-Rainbow, Carlton's second pick at No.28, was also a chance to play in the NAB Challenge, along with some of last year's rookie picks.
But he said Jayden Foster, the Blues' fourth and final national draft pick at No. 63,was unlikely to play having only recently started running after overcoming foot soreness.
The Blues play their opening NAB Challenge game against West Coast in Mandurah on February 27, then take on Collingwood on March 15 in Bendigo and Geelong on March 22 at Etihad Stadium.
McKay expected Chris Judd, Dale Thomas and Matthew Kreuzer would each play in two of those games as they continued to enjoy injury-free pre-seasons.
But the Blues footy boss said Andrew Walker (knee) would probably play just the final game against Geelong.
"It's just an on-going management thing with 'Walks', we'll just have to see how it goes," McKay said.
"It's a real balancing act between how much he can do and how much rest that knee needs.
"Whether he plays in the NAB Challenge will depend on how he goes in the next few weeks really.
"He certainly won't play in the first one, is highly unlikely to play the second and will probably play the third."
Carlton's list has enjoyed remarkable good health this summer but Chris Yarran (calf), Patrick Cripps (ankle), Troy Menzel (ankle) and Kade Simpson (ankle) all suffered minor injuries late last month.
McKay said Simpson was the only one of the quartet yet to return to full training.
"He's still on modified training duties but certainly nothing to worry about there," he said.
McKay said the Blues' healthy list had meant their 2015 pre-season had been a lot more "football specific" than last year's.
"It certainly allowed us to do more specific drills. The more numbers you have out on the park the more full-ground drills you can do whereas last year we just didn't have the numbers (of fit players) at times," McKay said.
"This year we've been able to do full-ground drills for big chunks of training and we try and get a lot of the running in the actual football skill drills.
"If they need topping up then we'll top them up at the end of training with some running, but often we don't need to."