GEELONG coach Chris Scott has called for caution on linking Gary Ablett's year as a forward "role player" to the Cats' premiership hopes this season.
Three days out from a blockbuster season opener against a "pretty complete" Collingwood, Scott moved to temper expectations on the champion's output in 2019.
I don't think we should be rating Geelong's chances on how well Gary can play as an individual - Chris Scott
Set to turn 35 in May, Ablett will play the final season of a two-year contract as a more permanent forward after averaging 29 disposals in 2018 when he played predominantly in the midfield.
"We don't need Gary Ablett to have a career-best season for us to be a pretty good team this year," Scott said on Tuesday.
"We think he's going to be a dangerous player in the contest for us. We'd like him to get on the scoreboard as much as possible but more importantly than those things, we want him to work cohesively with the other guys down there.
"I accept that it's hard for people outside to rate his performance given that some of those statistical numbers aren't going to tell the whole story.
"He's 35, he's been a fantastic player but there aren't many 35-year-old's playing better AFL footy than they were at 30, much less 27.
"It's very unlikely he's going to play every game for us and he's going to be a little bit more of a role player for us rather than someone we build our whole game plan around.
"I could contend that was the situation for the most part of last year as well, even though we didn't communicate it for various reasons.
"I don't think we should be rating Geelong's chances on how well Gary can play as an individual."
While the dual Brownlow medallist featured in 19 matches last season, his most since 2013, a call on his future for 2020 is expected to come much later in the year.
"I get the sense he'd like to play for as long as possible," Scott said.
"The only way for him to do that at our club is for him to have really good clarity on his role and really good clarity on how he's going to fit in the longer-term planning of the team (this season)."
Scott faces more immediate headaches around selection for the clash with the Pies, most notably in his ruck division and defence.
With Esava Ratugolea on track to overcome a dislocated finger and partner Rhys Stanley in the ruck, Scott concedes a tough call will need to be made among his bevy of tall defenders.
An early potential insight came during light match simulation on Tuesday, with Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart, Harry Taylor, Jake Kolodjashnij, Jack Henry and draftee Jordan Clark assuming the starting back six.
Scott all but assured Clark would make his debut against the Pies, declaring, "I can't say that he's a lock, but it'd be a brave coaching team not to pick him."
It may leave Lachie Henderson, Mark O'Connor and Zach Guthrie to fight for the seventh defensive position that the Cats traditionally start off the bench.
"I think it's a challenge (to play all the talls), it's not impossible and it will depend a little bit on the opposition," Scott said.
"So if we focus on the opposition at hand, they tend not to play too tall so that increases the challenge. We've been open-minded for a while and obviously we've got some preferences."
Scott ruled Zach Tuohy out of a return from a knee injury with a no-risk approach, with Jed Bews also several weeks away with a groin complaint.
In better news, fringe ruckman Zac Smith is expected to make his return from a knee strain in the Cats' VFL practice match against Collingwood's VFL side on Friday afternoon.