ADELAIDE star Rory Laird has kicked on after his midfield switch in 2020 and made the role his own this summer as the Crows look to settle their engine room ahead of round one.
Laird, a two-time All-Australian defender and 2018 club champion in the role, was thrust into the midfield late last season and thrived, winning 25 possessions or more in eight of the last nine game and finishing second in the best and fairest.
Over the same nine-game period, he averaged 11.7 contested possessions and 4.6 clearances, winning 37 disposals (17 contested) and 10 clearances against Collingwood in one of his earlier midfield games.
Laird was "raw" in the role last season, according to coach Matthew Nicks, but has spent an entire pre-season training for a midfield return, giving the 27-year-old the best chance to prosper in 2021.
"He's really made that his own now," Nicks told AFL.com.au.
"He's done a lot of work on his craft in that space and we brought in Nathan van Berlo to help out with that midfield and he has done some fantastic work with him this pre-season.
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"That's work that he hasn't had in previous years.
"We were so pleased with what we saw last year when he went into the midfield and he was quite raw.
"We allowed him to play and bring his natural game to that, and as the season played out he got better and better in that position."
Nicks said Laird's leg speed and fast reactions to jump on a loose ball were assets in the midfield and he had given the engine room a different look in 2020.
The second-year coach was "really confident" the former defender was set for a strong season.
"The connection he's going to have with (Matt) Crouch and (Rory) Sloane and (Ben) Keays and (Jackson) Hately going forward, those guys have trained together now for a good couple of months," the coach said.
"They'll no doubt be better for doing that.
"He's been outstanding through this pre-season (and) he hasn't missed a beat from a training point of view.
"He's got a natural base under him now from the years that he's played footy, so for him to now go to work and add to that base, I'm really confident that he's going to have a strong year."
The Crows will need to adjust their midfield in 2021 with the loss of free agent and 2019 club champion Brad Crouch.
Youth will be added in Greater Western Sydney recruit Jackson Hately, but Nicks is also expecting a familiar face in Sloane will be rejuvenated after a hand injury interrupted his 2020.
"Although he was super important to us, we just couldn't keep him out on the track," Nicks said.
"He hasn't missed a beat this pre-season and I look forward to what he's going to bring."
Nicks suggested wingman Lachie Sholl could increase his time inside the contest after a standout summer, while defensive midfielder Ben Keays will be important again.