THEY'RE small clues, but Western Bulldogs forward line coach Ash Hansen can see them. A subtle fist pump, more animation in his goal celebrations, and the hint of a smile. They are all dead giveaways that young ruckman Tim English is enjoying his footy.
Reserved, level-headed and "not an overly emotional man", English has had a steely focus on-field through his first five seasons, learning on the job as a young ruckman while coming up against bigger, stronger opponents.
It's appeared a slog at times for the talented West Australian, but the Bulldogs' acquisition of veteran ruckman Stefan Martin in the off-season has freed English up to spend more time forward this season, and he is clearly relishing the change.
The 23-year-old leads the AFL for contested marks (3.3 a game) and his eight goals in four games is the most this season among ruckman, due in part to the large amount of time he is spending in attack.
He took a career-high five contested marks against Brisbane in round four, and a career-high six grabs inside 50, booting three goals for the second straight week and carrying himself like a player who is loving his role in the team.
"He's not an overly emotional man, Tim, he's very level-headed and very focused. But we are starting to see some stronger celebrations, some smiles and a real presence when he's playing forward," Hansen told AFL.com.au this week.
"I think that naturally comes when young players start to impact the game, develop that inner belief and have experiences where they know they can contribute to a winning side.
"He certainly looks like he's excited to hit contests, he's getting more confidence with his craft, and he's developing more nous each week."
English is playing with "a sense of freedom and creativity" in attack this season, and the way he leapt at the ball to take contested grabs against the Lions at a windy Mars Stadium was exciting for the Bulldogs' coaches.
They had seen the possibility of a stronger and more athletic English flourishing in attack during the pre-season when he went forward and became a nightmare for his backline teammates.
"During match scenario type training we could have a look at him forward while Stef Martin and Jordan Sweet competed in the ruck," Hansen said.
"We saw what he was capable of and the strength, size and athleticism that he possessed, which made it quite appealing.
"His reach and his jump are similar to Mason Cox and when they get a really good launch at it, it's really difficult to legally defend without chopping an arm."
The Bulldogs saw English start timing his leads better over summer, anticipating space before it was there, and growing his connection with a star-studded midfield group.
The idea of playing three tall forwards, with English providing ruck support to Martin, became a viable option, and the big man bought into the idea of spending more time in attack.
"The prospect of Tim as a long-term ruckman is very bright, and to his credit he was really open-minded about building his forward craft," Hansen said.
"His diligence to do a lot of goalkicking at training and a lot of highest point marking is really starting to come out in his game."
The Bulldogs' list management strategy to recruit a mature ruckman has been a masterstroke, with English and Martin forming a close bond immediately.
List manager Sam Power looked at several ruck options and settled on Martin as the best choice to not only contribute on-field but also help English develop.
The pair were in conversation soon after Martin was secured as a free agent, and the former Melbourne and Brisbane ruckman assured his new teammate that he was there to help him.
"He had a good indication early on that Stef would be a great fit for the club (and) they had good open lines of communication from day one," English's manager, Andrew McDougall of Corporate Sports Australia, said.
"I was on the phone to Tim this week and he's definitely revelling in his new role up forward.
"He is the best ruckman under 25 in the AFL and will be better each year as he keeps adding the forward craft … it's the perfect balance with Stef at the moment."
English's ability as a forward has not surprised his junior coaches, who regarded his football smarts as one of his greatest traits when coming through the WA talent programs.
He developed at Christ Church Grammar as big man who could play as an extra midfielder but started to show the ability to take a contested mark in his draft year.
"He would take a mark up forward every now and then where you thought, 'Gee he could really come on and play as a forward as well'," WA talent manager Adam Jones recalls.
"But his smarts and knowledge about where to position around the ground is what you're seeing at AFL level now.
"He's doing all the things that we thought he'd be able to do once he got a bit more meat on his frame."
Added size and growing confidence are the keys to English's improvement this season, Jones believes, also praising the Bulldogs' decision to recruit ruck support for the Pingelly product.
The addition of Martin has improved the balance of the Bulldogs' team, Hansen says, and given them flexibility both in the ruck and forward. Where English takes his game from here would be up to him.
"He's shown that he's not just there to create a contest, he's a genuine threat forward and it just improves his overall impact on the game," Hansen said.
"Where the game evolves to and where he takes it, the ball is in his court really, because he's got all the tools to become a strong presence in the competition for a long time.
"We're very grateful at the footy club that we've got him."