DURING quarter-time of a match simulation session at Brisbane's Hobart training camp in early 2020, coach Chris Fagan singles out young midfielder Ely Smith.

Smith, then in his second pre-season, had taken a low-percentage snap at goal from deep in the forward pocket that his coach didn't like.

"That's not how we do things here. Don't let it happen again," Fagan sternly said.

In his first two seasons at Brisbane, it wasn't unusual for Smith to get what he calls "direct feedback" from the coaching group.

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Coming via the 21st pick in the 2018 NAB AFL Draft – the pick received from Collingwood as part of the Dayne Beams trade – Smith was a strong inside midfielder from the Murray Bushrangers.

As Brisbane's head of development Scott Borlace told AFL.com.au, it took Smith a little while to settle in.

"When he first came in he probably didn't understand 100 per cent what was required to be a professional footballer, and thought he might get a game straight up," Borlace said.

"Over three years he's become one of the more professional players at the club.

"He wants to watch vision, he wants to understand the game, we do structure stuff … he wants to make sure when he steps out there he knows everything 100 per cent.

"He's matured as a person and understands what it takes to play AFL, not just get a game but build a career within the industry.

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"It certainly took time, it certainly wasn't something that happened straight away."

Smith, now 20, has never been closer to breaking into Brisbane's top team.

He was part of the 'A' team during its intraclub matches and was in the 25-man squad that defeated Gold Coast in a practice match last weekend.

The progress is no fluke.

Smith hired a running coach during his off-season, often sneaking in extra kilometres than he was prescribed, and paid closer attention to his diet.

His love of eating cake took a back seat.

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The result was losing four kilograms and moving from the bottom 10 in the club's 3km time trial into the top five, all while gaining strength at the same time.

"I've always been a hard trainer … but those little things, they don't sound like much, extra running, the diet, they just help me get the most out of my body and make me a better athlete and that's helped my footy," Smith said.

"I filled out and got a little too big when I came to the club and the diet was to lose the fat, help me run better being a couple of kilos lighter.

"I feel lighter and I feel quicker and I'm able to run a lot better."

Smith said being critiqued by his coaches – Fagan, Borlace and midfield mentor Dale Tapping – had been a huge help in his development.

"I wouldn't say they were too cruel or too hard on me, but they were pretty direct in their feedback and I liked that, and I responded to it," he said.

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"I loved that from them. That's what's ended up helping me improve, that direct feedback.

"They're always there for me, to help with that extra bit of craft or that game knowledge, the structures and set-ups around how we play."

With Brownlow medalist Lachie Neale and second-place finisher at last year's best and fairest Jarryd Lyons blocking his path as an inside midfielder, Smith broadened his game.

He has moved from onball to the wing in order to open up his scope for debut.

"It's been pretty challenging, I haven't nailed it yet," he said.

"I've got a long way to go, but I've made strides with it and am improving every single week. I feel I've made huge inroads.

"Obviously I want to be playing as soon as I can, round one might not happen, but I'll keep knocking on the door until I get my chance.

"The scary thing is I feel like I've got so much more to give, I've only scratched the surface."

Lions legend Jonathan Brown presents Ely Smith with his jumper after being drafted in 2018. Picture: AFL Photos