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Mitchell will drive Eagles' midfield improvement

A DEEPER midfield boosted by the arrival of ex-Hawthorn champion – and now Brownlow medallist – Sam Mitchell will drive West Coast's improvement next year, senior assistant coach Justin Longmuir says.

The Eagles' engine room was often the club's Achilles heel last season, as they failed to replicate the form that propelled them to the 2015 Grand Final, and fell at the elimination final hurdle.

But the addition of Hawthorn great Mitchell in a bombshell trade will make West Coast's midfield a more dangerous prospect next year, with the 34-year-old set to relieve some of the hefty burden on Matt Priddis, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff.

"He'll be able to help them improve and hopefully those guys can help Sam improve as well, because we'll do things a little bit differently to what Hawthorn did and hopefully that challenge really excites him," Longmuir told TAB Radio.

"I think Sam and Matty Priddis and Luke Shuey and Gaffy have got to really try and help create some depth in our midfield with guys like (Elliot) Yeo, (Liam) Duggan and Dom Sheed to take the next step and really become consistent AFL footballers.

"That's where our improvement is going to come from this year."

Mitchell, who found out on Tuesday he has retrospectively been awarded the 2012 Brownlow Medal along with Trent Cotchin after it was handed back by Jobe Watson, will eventually assume a coaching position at West Coast once he hangs up the boots.

But Longmuir hoped the four-time premiership star would also drive the Eagles towards a successful culture while he is still playing.

"AFL is heading in a path where he players are involved in shaping how we want to play and how we want the culture to be at a football club, so I'm hoping he'll play a big role in that," he said.

The Eagles' first-to-fourth-year players returned to training on Monday, with emerging star defender Tom Barrass turning heads with his bulked-up frame.

Mitchell and ex-Cats big man Nathan Vardy are expected to link up with their new teammates for the first time when the senior group resumes on November 28.

"We're going to be really striving hard over the pre-season to improve individually but then we've got some gameplan things where we think we can get some marginal gains and improve little areas of our team footy as well," Longmuir said.

"We'll only have them (senior players) for four weeks before Christmas, but they come back in such good nick you can really hit them up straight away and get stuck into your training.

"We only have six weeks after Christmas before we start playing, so it comes around really quickly.

"Obviously Tommy Barrass was noted in the media coming back really well, but I couldn't pick one out of the guys (who stood out) yesterday they all looked in really good nick and sharp with their skills.

"Hopefully that collective drives the whole group to improve."

The Eagles will kick-off their 2017 campaign on Sunday, March 26 on the road against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.