YOUNG Adelaide midfielder Chayce Jones returned to pre-season this year a different man after coach Matthew Nicks admitted he was "thrown in the deep end" in his second AFL season.
Jones played 15 of a possible 17 games last year, but the Tasmanian talent is yet to fully announce himself as a star of the future in the same manner many of his top-10 contemporaries from the 2018 NAB AFL Draft have.
The No.9 pick has been a "really positive" story at West Lakes this pre-season, however, adding the size and strength he will require if he is thrown into the midfield again in 2021.
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"Chayce last year, I think even he would admit wasn't his best year. He was feeling out exactly what his role was at AFL level," Nicks told AFL.com.au.
"We probably threw him in the deep end a little, putting him right inside with some of the bigger bodies that clubs do have in and around the footy.
"But he's done a hell of a lot of work over the break and he looks like a different man now.
"He's put on some size, he's added some power, and we're seeing some great stuff in match play and in training."
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Jones, who was All-Australian as a junior, has now played 23 games in his two seasons, averaging 8.1 disposals, 4.5 contested possessions and 1.2 clearances last year.
He was awarded the Mark Bickley Award as Adelaide's best young player in his debut season and shapes as a crucial part of the Crows' future, with Nicks highlighting his leadership ability.
"He's super diligent as far as understanding the gameplan (and) an elite runner, right up in the top echelon as far as our runners go," Nicks said.
"So without putting too much pressure on another player, we really like what Chayce has been able to do this pre-season and hopefully he's taken some confidence out of working hard over the break and we see that early in the year."
Another encouraging story at Adelaide this summer has been the introduction of recruits Jackson Hately and Mitchell Hinge, from Greater Western Sydney and Brisbane respectively.
Hately, who has also made an impression as a young leader in his first pre-season since crossing from the Giants, looks a likely round one starter.
"I was lucky enough to work with 'Jacko' in his first year and I saw the way he arrived at the GWS Giants," said Nicks, who was a senior assistant coach at the Giants in 2019.
"He understood what it took, he knew who he needed to work alongside and straight away going to Phil Davis and a Matt de Boer is a reasonably smart move.
"He's a high-level professional in that space.
"We'll keep working with 'Jacko' this year on what takes his game to the next level, so some little intricacies to the way he plays his footy.
"He's as good a chance as any at the moment to play in round one."
Hinge, 22, had slotted straight into the group after three games in four seasons with Brisbane, training in half-back and wing roles before dislocating his shoulder on Monday.
Scans confirmed only minor damage and surgery will not be required, with the Crows confident he can draw upon his excellent pre-season and fitness base when he returns.
Nicks said the South Australian had impressed with both his skills and leadership.
"Unfortunately for him at Brisbane he was playing behind a couple of really experienced players in (Luke) Hodge and (Grant) Birchall, so it made it tough for him to get in," the coach said.
"But there's no doubt he matured while he was up there and we're really pleased to have him as part of our group.
"Whether that's at half-back or wing we'll have to wait and see. "