ESSENDON is about to enter uncharted waters.

Since Zach Merrett arrived at the Bombers at the end of 2013, the gun midfielder has played 167 of Essendon's 177 games on his way to three best and fairests and two All-Australian jumpers at age 26. He has been the club's most consistent player over the past decade.

But with the classy left-footer's ankle injury late in Saturday's loss to Brisbane set to rule him out for two months, the Bombers need to find a replacement and soon before their 2022 campaign hits the skids.

The Bombers will regain Nic Martin from the AFL's health and safety protocols this week but he could come in for Nik Cox, who also hurt his ankle late in the Lions defeat but not to Merrett's severity.

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Cox carried off late after ankle scare

Nik Cox had to be helped off the ground late in the game with a scare to his right ankle

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Dylan Shiel is in doubt with his side strain and Kyle Langford is out for at least another two months with his serious hamstring strain. Will Snelling, too, is unlikely to be available this week with a calf injury.

So how do the Bombers piece together their makeshift midfield, starting with Friday night's clash against the Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver-led Melbourne?

For a start, it will take a midfield mind shift given Merrett's near permanent place around the ball for his career. Champion Data shows in 2016 Merrett was second in centre-bounce attendances at Essendon. In 2017, he topped the club, was third in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and last year attended 517 centre bounces – the most of any Essendon player. 

Zach Merrett in action during the round two clash between Essendon and Brisbane at Marvel Stadium on March 26, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Having his razor sharp left-foot and ball-winning capacity missing for an extended period will be stark for Essendon but attention will shift to Andrew McGrath and Jye Caldwell to step in.

Essendon's first-choice centre square quartet generally comprising ruckman Sam Draper alongside Merrett, Darcy Parish and Jake Stringer – Parish has had the most centre bounce attendances of any Bomber this season with 47, Merrett with 41, Caldwell with 26 and McGrath and Stringer 21 each – although all 21 of Stringer's came against the Lions after he missed round one.

It has meant McGrath and Caldwell have had to be used in roles outside of the square – McGrath at half-back and half-forward, Caldwell in forward half positions. Both now will likely be rotated through the midfield positions much more in a chance for them to bolster their on-ball credentials whilst their vice-captain is missing.

Jye Caldwell celebrates a goal with Sam Draper during the round one clash between Geelong and Essendon at the MCG on March 19, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Archie Perkins has been around the ball at stages and is more than ready to do that full-time but the Bombers need his class around goal, while they could also blood first-round pick Ben Hobbs, who had 21 disposals at VFL level on the weekend.

Plenty will clearly fall to Parish, who is up for the task after his breakout 2021 campaign. He took his own full-time midfield opportunity when it was finally thrust upon him due to injuries in round two for the Bombers last season and worked in tandem to be a brilliant midfield one-two punch alongside Merrett.

Stringer, too, will shoulder a load in the middle although given the unavailabilities to the Bombers' forward line with Harrison Jones and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti missing, he is required close to goal as well.