HITTING the dangerous kicks and opening the game up has been a pre-season focus for young St Kilda midfielder Blake Acres as he looks to take the next step in his promising career.
Acres, who has enjoyed his best summer of training as he enters his fifth season, is among a group of blossoming Saints with his eye on September football this year and the potential to make it happen.
The 22-year-old has improved his running times and built more strength, but his primary focus has been disposal efficiency and building the confidence to use the ball in ways that his more skilful teammates can.
"Going into last pre-season I was told I need to work on my efficiency, and that got a lot better during the year," Acres told AFL.com.au.
"But this season it's about being able to hit the harder kicks, the kicks that Jack Billings, Shane Savage and Jimmy Webster can all hit.
"I've tried to keep it pretty simple, until I can actually hit those kicks, but I'm trying to add that to my game.
"If I train it here and earn the trust of the group, then I can go for them on game day."
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson believes Acres has the potential to be one of the competition's most improved midfielders in 2018 after four seasons of constant growth.
He has lifted his game's tally and average disposals each season, playing 18 games last year and averaging 20.3 touches, with his training form pointing to further improvement in 2018.
The young West Australian said he was excited about the year ahead knowing he was now in a position to lock down a permanent role in the team after twice fighting his way back from stints in the VFL in 2017.
"I got drafted with Jack (Billings) and Luke (Dunstan) and they both played really early on, so watching them play every game probably drove me a bit more," he said.
"I've still got to worry about a spot, but I don't have to go out there at training and kill someone else to get a spot.
"I can focus on the stuff I need to focus on and not have to worry about that all the time."
Acres' versatility as a 190cm midfielder, with a good blend of running power and strength, will likely prevent him from establishing himself in a single position this year, but he said moving between wing, midfield and forward roles suits him.
Off-field, he has an important role as one of the Saints' most sociable young players – alongside housemate Dunstan – bringing new players into the fold and building a strong group dynamic.
"We've taken that on and try to invite the younger guys out early, instead of waiting a year or two, and they feel a lot more comfortable," Acres said.
"They've all put themselves out there and enjoy their time with us and I feel like they're fitting in awesome.
"With Nick (Riewoldt) and 'Joey' (Leigh Montagna) retired, and a few other guys who have moved on as well, we're like the next group coming through where we have to look after the young guys coming in … it's on us."