ST KILDA will hand youngsters Seb Ross and Luke Dunstan more prominent midfield roles this season as the club prepares for life without departed champion Lenny Hayes.
Hayes, who retired last year after 297 games, was the Saints' leading midfielder in 2014, finishing second in the best and fairest and ranking No.1 at the club for clearances, contested possessions and tackles.
While senior midfielders David Armitage and Jack Steven will be expected to do the heavy lifting this year, the Saints are also backing Dunstan to build on his outstanding debut season and play a key role.
Richardson singled out Ross, who played 13 senior games last year, as a player who could graduate from a fringe role and cement himself in 2015.
"With Lenny moving on, Seb will get much more opportunity where he's at his best and that is on the inside," Richardson told AFL.com.au.
"For all the understandable reasons, he hasn't quite imposed himself on games, but last year when he went back to the VFL he dominated.
"He'd made that step to being an AFL player playing in the VFL and you'd walk away from games and say, 'He's just too good for this now'.
"At times he had to play half-forward and while he has to grow that part of his game, that doesn't really suit him. He's an inside player and his pre-season has been very strong."
Ross averaged 27 possessions in eight games with VFL club Sandringham last season, but his numbers dropped significantly in the AFL (15.8).
Richardson pointed to Ross's junior career, which saw him win 11 clearances in one TAC Cup match with North Ballarat, to highlight his potential at AFL level.
"I believe that whatever you saw in their last year of junior footy, when they felt really comfortable with where they sit, that's generally the level they get to in the AFL," the coach said.
"Of course there's some differences in the game, but generally in my experience, once they start to believe in themselves that's the player you're going to get."
With run-with players Maverick Weller and Tom Curren gaining experience, and Jack Newnes preparing for more midfield time in 2015, Richardson said he was pleased with the young on-ball options at his disposal.
Second-year midfielder Blake Acres could add further to that mix after shaking off foot, ankle and quad problems to enjoy a strong pre-season.
"He's a good size for the midfield, he can play across half-back and he wins the ball whether it's in the air or on the ground," Richardson said.
"His athletic profile is the best at our footy club and he's had a really good run.
"We need him out there, so I would expect him to play a fair bit of footy this year."
Watch the above video for an exclusive extended interview with Alan Richardson.