CARLTON will throw gun recruit Zac Williams straight into the midfield this season, with the club confident the high-profile free agency addition will add an exciting new dimension to its growing onball group.
Williams played predominantly across half-back throughout his 113-game career with Greater Western Sydney, but was identified by the Blues as a player who could provide explosive speed alongside star contested beast Patrick Cripps in the team's reshaped midfield.
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Having joined Carlton last October on a lucrative six-year deal, Williams kickstarted a frantic Trade Period for the club where it also signed dashing defender Adam Saad from Essendon and youngster Lachie Fogarty from Geelong.
He has since worked exclusively with the onball group this pre-season, with his breakaway pace and evasiveness making him the ideal candidate to complement bigger-bodied ball-winners like Cripps, Ed Curnow and Will Setterfield out of the centre.
"We're training Zac with our midfielders," Carlton coach David Teague told AFL.com.au.
"We've seen some of the work he's done, and it's been a tough midfield to break into at GWS. They've had a lot of good players go through there and he's had the ability to play off half-back, but we've got more depth across half-back than in any position on the ground right now.
"He's been quite good and he's brought some experience of playing in there from a different system. He's helping the guys around him, but we're definitely training him up as a midfielder.
Here's the Zac Williams collision, which came just seconds into this morning's intraclub. Had his jaw checked for a solid 10 minutes by club medics before returning to the field. The gun new recruit has been among the brightest on the track for the Blues this summer. @AFLcomau pic.twitter.com/vOvvKnyTb0— Riley Beveridge (@RileyBev) February 12, 2021
"We know he can go to half-back in games, but he's actually hit the scoreboard in training drills as well. He does have that ability to go forward, so we see him working in that midfield."
Williams' speed across half-back was the trademark of his eight-year career at Greater Western Sydney, but it's understood his preliminary final performance playing as an inside midfielder against Collingwood in 2019 was a key factor in Carlton's belief he could make the switch to a full-time onballer at Ikon Park.
He won 25 disposals, 10 clearances and laid six tackles against the Magpies to lead the expansion side to its first ever Grand Final, with the Blues now ready to test his mettle in an inside midfield role throughout an entire season in the upcoming campaign.
"We're learning a lot about our group right now," Teague said.
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"We probably see him adding a bit of speed to our midfield. We've got some great endurance runners. But himself, Jack Martin, David Cuningham, Paddy Dow … they can give us some real explosion out of the stoppage, both defensively and offensively.
"He'll probably be playing more on the inside, but right now we've got a lot of guys putting their hands up for those spots. It'll be a challenge to work out who goes where, but it's a great challenge to have."
Williams is one of a number of players Carlton is hoping will graduate to midfield positions this season, with Martin and Cuningham both training extensively with the onball group this summer after spending large periods forward last year.
Fogarty is another who will be used through the midfield this season, with the club preferring the versatile 21-year-old in an onball position as opposed to as a small forward.
Paddy Dow and Lochie O'Brien, both top-10 picks from the 2017 NAB AFL Draft, are also being tipped to improve on a frustrating last season, where they managed just four senior games between them.
"There were challenges and they both had little niggles throughout that period," Teague said.
"But, right now, both of those guys are training really well. They're learning their ability, but their bodies are also adapting.
"Paddy Dow's physique has changed, he's quite strong and he's exploding out of stoppages. Lochie O'Brien has got his run back, which was his weapon. He lost that a little bit last year, putting on a bit of weight to be able to compete more strongly. He lost his real weapon, but he's got that back and he's kicking the ball really well.
"What they're facing right now is the competition for spots. We've got a number of guys who are probably sitting there and thinking they should be in the starting 22, but some of them are going to miss out. It's a hard decision that the coaches are going to have to deal with, but it's one we love.
"It's always that challenge. Everyone wants to play round one, but every game is worth four points. The team you put out in round one generally isn't your best team at the end of the year. We've got to keep reminding the players that if they keep the mindset of getting better and improving, that will give them the best chance to be the best player they can be."
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Fellow first-round pick Liam Stocker is another being tipped to provide additional contested support for Cripps, with the youngster hoping to add to the five senior games he managed in his debut season.
"He's been really strong around stoppages," Teague said.
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"When we started adding the stoppage work in, it showed that it was his go-to. He's quite a physical player, he's a good tackler, and some of the work that he's done around the stoppages … you can see that he's grown.
"He's another player who is into his third year who is starting to understand his body, what he can and can't do from a conditioning point of view. He's learning what's required and right now, he's giving himself the best chance to perform. He fits right into that group of players fighting for a position."