ESSENDON is considering handing four players a debut in round one, including its suite of top-10 picks from last year's NAB AFL Draft.
The Bombers' run of injuries to key-position players, which has seen Michael Hurley (hip), James Stewart (hamstring) and Patrick Ambrose (foot) ruled out of their season-opener, has lifted young tall defender Zach Reid within reach of an early debut.
Reid, unlike fellow early draft choices Nik Cox and Archie Perkins, didn't feature in the club's pre-season games against Carlton and Geelong.
But new Bombers senior coach Ben Rutten told AFL.com.au that the 19-year-old will play in a VFL scratch match on Friday and press his claims to be picked in the round one clash against Hawthorn the following week.
"We haven't quite seen him up and playing in the past couple of games with us but from what we're seeing at training he's not far away. We're pretty keen to have a look at him, that's for sure, because I think he's got a bright future for us," Rutten said.
"Whether it's next week or not, I'm not sure yet, but he'll have a hitout on Friday against Richmond and we're looking for him to start establishing himself as a key defender."
Brandon Zerk-Thatcher presents as another option but has had an interrupted summer and Martin Gleeson has been used as a taller option in the past, with the Bombers set to resist sending Cale Hooker back to defence after his four-goal haul against Geelong in the AAMI Community Series.
"We know that Cale Hooker is a seasoned defender back there but also think that he provides a fair bit up forward for us at the moment as well, along with Peter Wright who's really settling into the club well," Rutten said.
Rutten said that Cox "is going to be pretty close" to being selected to face the Hawks on the wing, with talented half-forward Perkins to also come under close consideration as the Bombers settle on their side.
"[Perkins] hasn't done any harm over the last couple of weeks to put his name up for selection. Archie is different to both 'Reidy' and 'Coxy', obviously he's not as tall but I think some of the skillsets he's got and his power and speed is going to excite a lot of Essendon fans and his teammates and he's going to excite the coach as well I'm sure," he said.
With Harrison Jones expected to make his debut as a key forward after an impressive summer, four Bombers could be blooded for their first AFL games as the club starts its new era under Rutten.
Off-season recruits Wright and Jye Caldwell will also play, while Nick Hind escaped any damage to his shoulder last week against the Cats, meaning the Bombers could have up to seven first-timers in the red and black.
Important forward Jake Stringer is set to miss the game, however, as the 2016 Western Bulldogs premiership player manages a nagging Achilles injury.
"He's back training with the full group. He's probably unlikely for next week in round one but he won't be too far away. It's important with Jake that we see it [like] we have to set him up to have a really strong season," Rutten said.
CIRCLE THEM IN YOUR CALENDAR The 20 matches of 2021 you won't want to miss
"It's not about getting him back as soon as we can, it's about ensuring that he's ready to perform when he does come back. It's a long season and with game time going back to full-length quarters and less rotations it's important we bring players in who are ready to perform."
Veteran midfielder David Zaharakis, who is returning from off-season knee surgery, is several weeks away from playing but has resumed more training recently.