ADELAIDE will start to prepare for life after Ben Rutten as early as this year and target key defenders during the trade and free agency period.

Coach Brenton Sanderson admitted the greatest hole in the club's list remained in defence, although he was quick to point out 30-year-old Rutten was in sizzling form and "could keep playing for a few more seasons".

The Crows famously lost key back Phil Davis to Greater Western Sydney in 2011 who, post-Rutten, would have formed an integral part of the club's defence.

Sanctions on the club due to the ill-fated Kurt Tippett deal means it is unable to participate in the first two rounds of the next NAB AFL Draft.

Although linked to several key forwards after losing Tippett to the Sydney Swans, Sanderson's priority would be to secure a big defender.

"That's on area that we'll keep looking at options…the order of preference would be a key defender," Sanderson said.

"We have to get a bit adventurous with how we bring young talent into the side because we haven't got access to first round and second round draft picks.

"We’ll certainly have a look at free agency, we'll look at way we can trade players into our club … David Noble's (list manager) working really hard behind the scenes to ensure that we're going to be good long term."

Adelaide has significant defensive talent on its list with NAB AFL Rising Star nominee Sam Shaw yet to return from a hamstring injury and ready-to-go defenders Luke Thompson and Kyle Hartigan both playing SANFL football.
But due to the draft sanctions, Sanderson admitted he would need to be "adventurous" not only in how he can attract new talent, but how existing talent would be used to plug holes.

Defenders Andy Otten and Matthew Jaensch have already been used as forwards this season and Sanderson said Shaw could follow suit.

"(Ricky) Henderson can play as a sort of third tall back, Otten, (Brent) Reilly can play tall, we can flip (Josh) Jenkins or (Shaun) McKernan back if we needed to," he said.

"We can still shuffle the magnets around."

Sanderson said there would be minimal shuffling this week though, as the side prepares to face Fremantle at AAMI Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

He insisted his team had plenty to work on before it could consider itself one of the top teams in the competition, of which the Dockers were included.

"Geelong, Hawthorn, Essendon, Sydney, Fremantle – those five sides are the real standouts," he said.

"Our contested ball and stoppage numbers are nowhere near as good as they were in 2012.

"Across the board lots of little things we need to improve [on], if you're going to be a top four side you have to do those things consistently well each week."

Harry Thring is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Harry.