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Star Bombers mid steps up running ahead of JLT

Will Joe Daniher be right for round one? Nat Edwards and Cal Twomey take a deep dive into the Dons' pre-season

ZACH Merrett is making steady progress from the ankle injury he suffered last month, with the Essendon midfielder stepping up his running program ahead of the JLT Community Series. 

Merrett went down with the ankle concern in January during a training session and was in a moonboot for nearly two weeks nursing the injury. 

However, the Bombers' vice-captain ran strongly on Monday at the club's training session at its Tullamarine headquarters. 

The 23-year-old didn't participate in training with the main group, but showed encouraging signs with his individual running program.

The prolific midfielder, who finished third in last year's best and fairest following his All Australian season in 2017, completed laps and lifted his intensity as the session went on. 

The club is being cautious with Merrett after the injury scare, but is optimistic he will be able to feature in their pre-season campaign, which begins on Thursday, February 28 against Carlton. 

They then play Geelong the following Thursday on March 7.

Cale Hooker (hamstring) and Kobe Mutch (ankle) also worked away from the main group as they overcome their respective injuries, while captain Dyson Heppell didn't train as he continues to nurse hamstring tendinitis. 

Devon Smith, who hurt his biceps during training on Friday, also didn't train but was on the sidelines with the rehabilitation group early on.

Conor McKenna, who has been battling a groin issue and regularly running laps on the Bombers' secondary training oval, took part in the full session, even though it did not include any full-scale match simulation. 

Former Richmond assistant coach Ben Rutten, who has joined the Bombers as an assistant coach focusing on team defence and the key position players, controlled a large section of the session working through the club's full-ground defensive zone. 

The Bombers have made a focus on bettering that area of their game in 2019 as they look to return to the finals.