ESSENDON coach Ben Rutten has backed Dyson Heppell to remain as the club's skipper, with the Bombers considering swinging the veteran onballer to a new position across half-back next season.
The club lost important running defender Adam Saad to Carlton during the recent Trade Period, while fellow speedster Conor McKenna retired from football to return home to Ireland in September.
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It led to Essendon recruiting Nick Hind from St Kilda in the final minutes of the Trade Period, with the 26-year-old having earned his place on the Saints' list as a mature-aged recruit after starring across half-back for the Bombers' VFL team.
But Heppell could join Hind in Essendon's defence next season, with Rutten suggesting the club was eyeing a number of options for its backline ahead of his first official season as senior coach next year.
"We'll probably see a variety of personnel back there," Rutten told AFL.com.au's NAB AFL Draft Countdown.
"Unless someone really jumps out and owns that position, we're certainly open-minded and I think we've got some flexibility to be able to replace the likes of Adam Saad and Conor McKenna."
Heppell, who turns 29 next year, is again set to lead Essendon as the club's captain despite the emergence of reigning best and fairest winner Jordan Ridley and former No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath as future leaders.
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On the verge of his fourth successive season as the club's skipper, Heppell's leadership credentials earned the backing of Rutten as the club prepares to bolster its rise up the ladder with three top-10 picks in Wednesday night's NAB AFL Draft.
"There's no doubt we've got some really strong emerging leaders that really took a big step forward in their growth last year," Rutten said.
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"Andy McGrath, Jordan Ridley, Kyle Langford and we also forget about Zach Merrett, who is still quite a young player in terms of his age. But he's got some great football and great experience behind him.
"Certainly, at this stage, I think that Dyson will be our captain. He's really widely respected and he's unanimously respected.
"But I love the fact that McGrath and Ridley, in their standout performances last year, have started right now with their preparation and with who they want to be as footballers. They really started to have an honest reflection of where they were and have put the work in.
"I'm already seeing some signs with our guys who are back already that we're going to have some of those guys jump up again. That's what I'm wanting to see from our guys who are back training at the moment."