CARLTON is prepared to bide its time with young defender Tom Williamson, who is still being managed through a gruelling recovery from a debilitating back injury.
Williamson, 20, has been kept off the park for the best part of 18 months because of the troublesome injury, stalling a promising start to his career at Ikon Park.
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The 61st selection in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft, Williamson defied expectations in his maiden season with the club to play 15 senior games the following year and become a mainstay across Carlton's half-back line.
However, he has hardly been seen on the field since, with his current pre-season constantly halted across the summer due to Carlton's close monitoring of his training loads.
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Williamson played AFLX in February last year, but managed just two VFL matches for the remainder of the campaign. He was prematurely withdrawn from the second of those games when his back spasmed after landing awkwardly in a marking contest.
His season was officially over shortly after, when scans showed a hot spot on his back.
More than nine months later, the booming left-foot kick is yet to resume full training and has already been ruled out of the first part of Carlton's upcoming campaign.
However, the Blues are confident Williamson will eventually return, and have backed the talented youngster to overcome his latest series of frustrating setbacks.
"It's been really challenging," Carlton coach Brendon Bolton told AFL.com.au this week.
"For young kids to learn about their body, they're flat-out all the time, but they've got to learn what works for them and what doesn't.
"That's been a work in progress for him over the last few years. But I think now, on the back of a year or so of that, he's starting to understand his body.
"Some players can do that a lot quicker than others. It's taken some time for 'Willo', and that's just the development of a young player."
Williamson's back issues first started in his debut season, when he missed four weeks midway through the year following a collision during a game against Gold Coast.
The Blues said at the time that the athletic 190cm defender suffered "a lot of bruising" as a result of the incident, though he returned to play the final five games of the year.
He continued an impressive start to his Carlton career, which resulted in a two-year contract extension that ensured he would remain with the Blues until the end of 2020.
The club is hopeful he will now resume that exciting career at some point this season.
"I think everyone and most of our members saw that from him in his first year, where he played so much footy," Bolton said.
"I think he was a pick in the 60s and he came on really quickly for us. Then he's just had this nagging back injury that virtually wiped out his last year.
"It's about building now. He's headed in the right direction, but there's no quick fix at the moment. He's just got to work through that.
"In time it will steady, but we think we've got a really strong half-back flanker on our hands.
"We – and he – needs to work at a rate that builds him steadily, versus trying to get him to AFL standard really quickly and go backwards again."