SAM Draper will make a long-awaited return to full training on Wednesday after a summer spent rehabbing groin surgery.
The Essendon ruck is keen to feature in some practice matches at either senior or reserves level in the coming weeks, but is not yet able to rule on his availability for round one against Hawthorn with any certainty.
"I'm feeling pretty good to be honest, the last couple of weeks have been great for me, running around pain free," Draper said.
"I've been slowly getting into some drills with the boys. Looking at training [on Wednesday] with the group, which is really exciting. Feeling really good.
"I'm hoping to (play some practice matches). I've been trying not to think too far ahead, just taking the cliched one week at a time, and I think that's definitely helped. I'm aiming to play some of those practice games – not sure what that looks like, whether it's AFL or VFL.
"'Scotty' (coach Brad Scott) has been really good at saying there's no pressure on when I come back, whenever I'm 100 per cent good. It's not like there's a big countdown to round one like it seems to be sometimes. I'm definitely aiming for that still, but we'll see how we go."
It's been the slowest of builds for Draper, who missed rounds 14-22 with the injury before undergoing surgery in September.
"It's not a straightforward injury. I've felt other injuries I've had in the past have been really clear cut in what you need to do to get better," Draper said.
"This injury has had a lot of grey areas. It's been hard at times to work through, but I feel like it's taught me a lot and I'm better off after this injury. Definitely frustrating at times, but I've learnt a lot about my body.
"The last two weeks I've been running round, kicking footys, doing little drills here and there with the boys, and I've been pain free, which is great. The next step is the genuine training with the group and contact. Hitting speed has been no issue, it's more the short and sharp stuff."
Upon his eventual return, Draper – potentially in a majority forward role – is expected to be partnered by veteran recruit Todd Goldstein, although he said youngster Nick Bryan has had a strong summer.
"The last couple of years I've learnt my craft in the forward line and feel really comfortable playing forward, so whatever it looks like – we haven't trained together yet, so it's hard to say if we will be," he said.
"Me and Andrew Phillips have played together before (against) Gawn and Grundy (Max and Brodie at Melbourne, a partnership that lasted just one season) – and we worked well together, me and 'Flip'.
"I feel like 'Goldy's' an amazing player too, so it can definitely work. I've worked hard on my forward craft – I'm a little different to some other rucks, I can play forward and feel comfortable there. Just get my goalkicking right, and I feel I can be pretty dangerous.
"I haven't trained all summer, so [Bryan is] definitely ahead of me at the moment. He's been training really well, and even young Vigo (Visentini) coming through has been really impressive. So it's great, all the boys are out there at the moment. I need to get out there and put my name forward."