ESSENDON coach Ben Rutten has been left to lament a horror night on the injury front, with Jye Caldwell, Sam Draper and Dylan Shiel all picking up injuries against Port Adelaide on Saturday and facing time on the sidelines.
Caldwell was subbed out of the game in the third quarter after injuring his left hamstring while kicking the ball inside 50, while Draper hurt his ankle from an awkward landing in a marking contest.
Shiel meanwhile was left clutching his knee in the final quarter, following a strong tackle from Port Adelaide skipper Tom Jonas.
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The star midfielder eventually limped off the ground and later appeared on crutches with ice on his knee.
Rutten said while the severity of each of these injuries was unknown, he was hopeful Shiel has not injured his ACL.
"Jye is just a hamstring. Dylan is a knee and Draper is kind of a high ankle," Rutten said post-game.
"The doctors don’t think [Shiel's injury is] an ACL. It's just locked up a little bit, so he'll have some scans and work out exactly what it is … but [it didn't look] great.
"[Draper has] one of those high ankle [injuries] we think at the moment, but we'll have to investigate a bit further."
The Bombers also lost Dyson Heppell before the game, with the captain a late withdrawal due to a back complaint.
Rutten said he hoped Heppell would return next week against St Kilda, but admitted the club's growing injury list would put its depth to the test.
"Dyson was going okay, Thursday he just had a bit of a back spasm. We don’t think it's anything too serious, but it was enough to keep him out of this week," Rutten said.
"We're hopeful he'll be available next week.
"But certainly we'll test our depth now. As disappointing as it is to lose those three guys it creates an opportunity now to have a look at other players."
Rutten also indicated that forward Jake Stringer could be in the frame to return from injury next week following his second straight VFL practice match, but conceded veteran Michael Hurley was a "long way off" as he recovers from a hip infection.
Port Adelaide had a relatively clean bill of health on the injury front, but lost Todd Marshall before the game due to a sore back.
He was replaced by Mitch Georgiades who made the most of his opportunity, finishing with four goals, 13 touches and eight marks.
Coach Ken Hinkley said after the game that this strong performance created some immediate selection pressure, especially with young star Connor Rozee set to return from injury.
"That [selection pressure] is a good thing for us. We've said all year so far that the squad mentality is a way we'll approach it," Hinkley said.
"People will have to play roles and accept roles and we're going to have Rozee available too, so it's going to put a squeeze on.
"But the boys understand that and the boys understand that everyone's going to [need to] take their turn at the right moment."
Hinkley was also full of praise for youngster Zak Butters, who starred on Saturday with 36 disposals and a goal.
He said the sky was the limit for the 20-year-old.
"He's a really talented young player who's got a lot in front of him and a lot of growth to come," Hinkley said.
"How far [he] goes is a challenge for Zak. Like a lot of the young players, Zak's really driven to what he wants to achieve. I think he can achieve anything he really wants to if he really challenges himself.
"And I know the way he prepares and the way he goes about things that he'll give himself every opportunity."