HAVING inherited Essendon's captaincy from Jobe Watson at the start of 2017 and then played alongside the former Bombers midfielder, Dyson Heppell is also keen to hand over the role to the club's next skipper and be there for the transition period.

But he's not ready to do that just yet.

Heppell this season heads into his sixth year as captain, and 12th as a Bomber. The club has narrowed its leadership group, with Zach Merrett his vice-captain and Andrew McGrath the deputy vice-captain, and the Bombers' next skipper is set to come from that pair.

Heppell, who is out of contract at the end of this year, wants to be there to help whoever takes on the mantle.

Essendon's 2022 leadership group (L-R): Zach Merrett, Dyson Heppell, Andrew McGrath. Picture: essendonfc.com.au

"No doubt I think that will be the case. I'd love to still be there and guide the next skipper through. When that is, who knows, it will play out," he said.

For now, the 29-year-old is focused on this season as the Bombers look to go further than their elimination final defeat last season to the Bulldogs, which was Heppell's fifth elimination final loss of his 191-game career.

The task looks different for the Bombers this season, though, after their surprising jump last year into the top-eight after a disastrous 2020 campaign. Their eighth-placed finish makes for a tougher draw this season, they will be without gun goalkicker Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti for at least the first part of the year and they know another leap up the ladder won't happen automatically.

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"You could say [it was] exceeding expectations (last year) but I think as the year progressed we had real belief in what we were building towards and didn't really have any real expectations on ourself. I think this year's similar," Heppell said.

"Going into the year there's a lot of outside noise and that's only natural from the year we had and it's very exciting with our enormous fanbase and everyone's charging again which we love. But internally it's trying to keep a lid on it as much as we can and just keep developing and progressing and see how it all pans out."

Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett and Andrew McGrath ahead of the practice match between Essendon and the Western Bulldogs at The Hangar on February 23, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Heppell last year moved out of the midfield and returned to the half-back line, where he started his career, and offered a calm and steady presence. He has trained some of this summer on the wing, and like a number of his teammates this season will jump into a "mixed bag" of roles.

"That's what we're trying to drive amongst the group is versatility in roles. We've got a stack of midfielders and high-quality midfielders who will have to play a number of roles as well. It might be a bit of a combo of mid, wing and back," he said.

Essendon starts its season against Geelong next Saturday afternoon at the MCG.