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Big Blue issue: Will the drought end after 1020 days?

Blues forward faces 'tall order' to make best 22 Riley Beveridge and Mitch Cleary bring you an update on the Blues' pre-season

THE NUMBER 100 has morphed into an almost mythical figure when talking about Carlton.

Come the club's round one fixture with Richmond next month, it will have been 55 games – or 1020 days, to be exact – since the team's score last hit that magical triple-figure mark.

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With each passing week throughout that period, pressure – externally at least – has grown on the club to finally break the shackles, score freely and eventually hit 100 points.

Not that you'd know, should you talk to Carlton's forward line group.

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Led by forwards coach David Teague, the developing collection of promising key position players and speedy smalls are determined not to be defined by the number.

Ask promising youngster Harry McKay, for example, and the response is clear.

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"We don't have a whiteboard with the number 100 on it," McKay told AFL.com.au from the club's pre-season training camp in Mooloolaba this week.

"We just think if we can execute our gameplan with the ball, then we can score 100 points."

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There is, however, a plan in place to improve Carlton's inability to hit the scoreboard.

But it's not based on a better offensive system. Rather, it starts with defence.

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As footy has shifted into a game of territory, with clubs like Richmond and Melbourne exemplifying the importance of locking the ball inside 50, Carlton has fallen behind.

Champion Data notes that the Blues ranked last for time inside forward 50 last season, last for forward 50 pressure and last for forward 50 disposals. They also ranked second worst in the League for forward 50 tackles and for percentage of scores from forward 50 entries.

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Quite simply, Carlton didn't keep the ball forward for long enough. And when they did ultimately get it down there, they didn't score frequently enough.

It's why the majority of the club's summer has been focused on defence.

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"It's an interesting one, because people look at it from an offensive point of view, but you should look at it from a defensive point of view as well," Teague told AFL.com.au.

"It's about being able to stop the ball in your front half and keep it in there, because you don't go from your defensive 50 to score a lot.

"You might go from your defensive 50 to your offensive 50. But if you can turn the ball over again in your forward half, then you're more likely to score.

"As much as it is your ability to move the ball – and if you can move it quickly and not allow teams to set up defensively, then that helps – but it's also your ability to lock it in your front half. Eventually, if the ball is in your forward 50 enough, then you'll score.

"That's been our biggest issue, we haven't had the ball in our forward 50 enough and we haven't locked it in our front half to give us multiple opportunities to eventually score."

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The plan is therefore two-fold at Ikon Park. It starts with defence, then it builds towards letting a naturally talented group of forwards get to work on showcasing their skills.

But while questions may get posed about whether the Blues have the cattle to pressure defensively from the front – given Mitch McGovern's arrival adds to a group that already consists of tall forwards McKay, Charlie Curnow and Levi Casboult – they have other ideas.

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While all are big bodies, standing above or close to 200cm, they have all blitzed the field in this summer's time trials. McKay and Curnow were two of the frontrunners, while Casboult drew praise from Teague for his vastly improved fitness base upon returning for pre-season.

All know that their roles will be defined by the pressure they produce.

"If you have immobile key forwards, it makes it hard when the ball hits the ground," McKay said.

"But you look at all of our tall forwards, they're all up the front of the running in the time trials. It means that when the ball hits the ground, there's no excuse for us not to chase, tackle and win the ball on ground level.

"It's been one of our main focuses as forwards. We don't want to let the ball out easily. The more repeat entries we have, the more time the ball is in our forward line and the better chance we are of scoring.

"We want to help out our backline and midfield by being really aggressive and keeping the ball locked in. That will be the main focus of ours, then when the ball is down there we want to use our flair and talent."

 

So, does this equate to more 100-point games for Carlton?

The man leading the forwards group couldn't care less, so long as it equates to more wins.

"We don't talk about it, we just want to be the best offensive team," Teague said.

"We'd love to kick 100 points every week, but it may not be that sort of game. In certain other games, it will be.

"We'd love for our fans to be excited about our ability to score, but at the end of the day we want to win and we'll play a style of football that gives us the best chance of winning." 

THE BIG BLUE ISSUE: TURNING DEFENCE INTO ATTACK

Time in forward 50: 19% of game time (18th in the AFL in 2018)
Forward 50 tackles: 8.5 PG (17th in the AFL)
Forward 50 pressure factor: 154 PG (18th in the AFL)
Inside 50 to score percentage: 39.5% (17th in the AFL)
Forward 50 disposals: 36.9 PG (18th in the AFL)
* Stats courtesy of Champion Data

AFL.com.au will detail other aspects from behind-the-scenes access at the Blues' Mooloolaba pre-season camp in the coming days