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Desperation fuels Jones

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AS SEAMLESSLY as Liam Jones appeared to transform from a struggling spearhead into an assured key defender in 2017, the 26-year-old says the reality was he got by more often than not on sheer desperation rather than backline smarts.

Jones' move into defence came about suddenly and took him completely by surprise. 

Carlton hadn't planned to use him in defence at any stage during the 2017 pre-season, when Jones trained, as he had over his previous seven AFL seasons, exclusively with the forwards group.

At the time, the Tasmanian was entering the last season of a three-year contract with the Blues and, after kicking just 16 goals from 17 games in his first two seasons at Ikon Park, his AFL career looked over barring a stunning turnaround.

That turnaround came after the Blues decided to try Jones in defence in round one of the VFL season, with the former Western Bulldog notified of his drastic role change just a day before the Northern Blues' season opener.

Jones was shocked initially but threw himself into his new position head-first.

After a solid start to the season, he really grabbed the Carlton selectors' attention when he held demoted St Kilda spearhead Josh Bruce to one goal while racking up 30 possessions and 15 marks himself.

A season-ending knee injury to Sam Rowe then opened up a spot in the senior team and Jones earned a recall for the Blues' round 12 clash against Greater Western Sydney.

What he did next capped one of the most astonishing career revivals of recent times.

Playing Carlton's final 12 games of the season, Jones took on and beat star spearheads such as Jonathon Patton, Gold Coast's Tom Lynch, Taylor Walker, Jesse Hogan and Jarryd Roughead.

Despite missing Carlton's first 10 games, he remarkably led the club in one-percenters (132, 38 more than the next best Blue, Lachie Plowman) and finished ninth in the best-and-fairest award. 

But it was the apparent ease with which Jones slotted into defence – and the confidence and judgement he regularly showed in coming off his man to take intercept marks or spoil – that was most impressive.

However, Jones told his transition into defence hadn't been as smooth as it appeared.

Speaking at Carlton's pre-season camp at Maroochydore on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, Jones said he had largely got by on natural instinct and the direction of fellow Blues defenders such as Sam Docherty, Kade Simpson, Lachie Plowman and Caleb Marchbank.

"There were some positive things, which I picked up quite well, but every game there were a lot of RFIs ('room for improvements')," Jones said.

"My mindset coming back there was just to go 100 per cent at everything because if my bloke marks it he's probably having a shot at goal. So my thinking back there was just to be as desperate as I could be and just to do everything that I could to save a score.

"I got to places through just desperation and trying to sprint, just working really hard.

"But if I work a little bit smarter and have smarter positioning, I'm not having to bust my boiler and absolutely go flat out for things. Smarter positioning will help me defend better, I reckon."

Jones feels far more settled at Carlton this pre-season after his strong finish to 2017 and is confident his first pre-season with the club's backline group will help him take his game to another level.

Liam Jones feels far more settled at Carlton this pre-season. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

While his positioning inside the Blues' defensive 50 in different game scenarios is the main thing he is working on, Jones also wants to become more of a leader in the back six next season.

"Instead of just trying to get to a contest myself, sometimes I should be pulling someone else back so they can own that space and we can help each other out," he said.

"Moving together as a back six we can all help each other more and that's just about me getting more educated so I can demand that of the others."

Liam Jones attacks pre-season during the Blues' training camp on the Sunshine Coast. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

Jones knows, however, no matter how much he improves this pre-season, as a key defender he can never afford to get comfortable.

"You can go from one week playing on a Jack Riewoldt, who moves around so much, is very nimble and works high up the ground and rips back, to a Tom Hawkins, who's just so strong and pushes off," he says.

"Some games last year I felt more comfortable than others, but every week you come up against a completely different puzzle.

"No matter who you're playing, it's just another massive challenge."