MELBOURNE is tracking a mile ahead of this time last year as the club bids to bounce back from a hellish year on and off the field.

The Demons' follow-up act to their 2018 preliminary final run was, perhaps, ruined before it even started as 17 players – many of them key members – underwent off-season surgery. 

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The injuries kept coming through the season as well as they slumped from a top-four finish to second-from-bottom, ahead of only Gold Coast. 

Fast-forward to this summer and the situation is nowhere near as dire, to the point they're able to contemplate taking a punt on talented ex-Docker and Sun Harley Bennell's troublesome calves. 

Melbourne also now has highly regarded fitness guru Darren Burgess overseeing its strength and conditioning program. 

Darren Burgess is overseeing Melbourne's physical preparation ahead of the 2020 season Picture: AFL Photos


Like all clubs, there are still some players on limited duties beyond just potential pre-season supplemental selection period recruit Bennell. 

They include ex-Giant Adam Tomlinson (calf), Charlie Spargo (ankle), Mitch Hannan (groin), Kade Kolodjashnij (concussion) and Oskar Baker. 


Co-captain Nathan Jones and Kolodjashnij were restricted to running laps at Gosch's Paddock on Monday, but the hope is the latter will resume contact drills after Christmas. 

Key forwards Tom McDonald (knee) and Sam Weideman (jaw/hip) are taking part in all drills after season-ending injuries, while the news is equally – but tentatively – promising for Aaron vandenBerg (foot/ankle). 

VandenBerg's only seven games in the past three seasons came in a row from round 20 through to the preliminary final last year, when he carved out a niche as a winger-forward. 

The 27-year-old was able to run in the off-season for the first time since arriving at the Demons in the 2014 rookie draft and has been doing so for the best part of four months. 

Most encouragingly, vandenBerg took part in midfield drills on Monday. 

Melbourne has also integrated draftees Luke Jackson, Kozzy Pickett and Trent Rivers into the program in the past week or so, along with new signing Mitch Brown.

One Jackson pack mark drew a raucous response from his teammates. 

Jackson is wearing No.6 at training, Pickett has 36 on his back – most recently worn by fellow Indigenous players Jeff Garlett and Aaron Davey – Rivers 24 and Brown 38. 

Former Fremantle winger Ed Langdon is in No.15. 

Pickett looks from the outside to have settled in well, and responded with a wide grin to some gentle teasing from a teammate for being a step slow in one drill. 

He sought treatment for a sore left patella and had it taped but completed the session without any noticeable issues while running, leaping and wrestling in one-on-one work. 

Pickett swapped comfortably between kicking on his left and right foot, was clean at ground level, showed good intensity and displayed clean hands but was blowing hard by session's end.

Jay Lockhart and Harry Petty – who showed promise in attack through necessity this year – continue to train with the defenders and forwards, respectively, but are expected to play at both ends in 2020.

Second-year players Tom Sparrow, Kyle Dunkley and James Jordon were in the thick of the midfield work.

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