CARLTON returned from its pre-season camp in Mooloolaba on Saturday morning following a week of intensive training, beach sessions and team bonding activities.
AFL.com.au's Riley Beveridge joined the team on the Sunshine Coast, tracking new coach David Teague and a series of staff members throughout Wednesday's training session.
Here is what he learnt.
All pictures from Michael Willson, AFL Photos.
WHAT MAKES TEAGUE TICK
"We'll drop that, thanks."
A wry smile wraps around David Teague's face as the first mention of the 'Teague Train' is made. It's a new year and the new Carlton coach wouldn't mind a new nickname.
Teague is rather uncomfortable about how the phrase took off after co-captain Patrick Cripps endorsed his credentials to become the club's full-time head honcho halfway through last year.
It's surprising to see, as it may be the only thing that makes the 38-year-old squirm.
In fact, the most noticeable aspect of Teague's coaching style is how strikingly comfortable he is in his own skin.
While you could forgive a first-year senior coach for being desperate in their attempts to be across every facet of training and game days, Teague wants to empower his players and assistants.
As a number of his deputies set up Carlton's midweek session in Maroochydore on Wednesday, Teague addresses exactly how many of the numerous drills set to be undertaken throughout the morning he will take full control of: one.
Instead, development coach Jason Davenport is among the most vocal as he leads the team through a series of exercises, while other assistants like Cameron Bruce, Brent Stanton, John Barker and Dale Amos keep watchful eyes over the range of drills in motion across the field.
All the while, Teague stalks from one side of the ground to the other. He takes in as much as possible, only interjecting within drills when he feels it absolutely necessary.
He trusts the assistants that have been alongside him since he first joined Carlton from Adelaide as an assistant coach ahead of the 2018 season to control the large majority of proceedings.
He also implicitly trusts those who have recently joined, including Henry Playfair as head of coaching performance and Luke Power as head of development.
Last week, Power came to Teague hoping to show the playing group a clip of basketball star Kyrie Irving talking about the influence the late Kobe Bryant had on his career. Realising the impact such a message could have, Teague was only too willing to let him do so.
"What we want is everyone to feel comfortable having different ideas," Teague later says from the team's hotel in Mooloolaba.
"Sometimes we run with it and other times we say, 'not now'. What I love is the number of different ideas. As the coach, the support I have had from the players and other coaches … they are all throwing different ideas at me and I love that.
"Let's talk to each other, let's get better along the way."
The same goes for the players.
As veteran midfielder Ed Curnow rides through the hotel's lobby on a bicycle with a surf board tucked under his arm, ready to make his way to the waves of the Mooloolaba beach, it brings Teague to another important point he is trying to emphasise to his players.
Curnow is renowned at the club for his 'loud shirts'. But if that is what makes him unique to both the coach and his playing group, then Teague believes it should be encouraged.
"We want a safety here," Teague says.
"We want players to be themselves and be the best they can be. We don't want them to be hindered by anything.
"We don't want them not wearing a loud shirt into the club and thinking, 'I don't want to do it because everyone is going to say something'. If that's you, you do that.
"This is a safe place to be yourself. We believe that if everyone can be their best self, we'll have a pretty good team, because we've got the talent."
HOLD YOUR BREATH
There's a crunch, then there's a silence.
Tom De Koning gets up quickly, rubbing his knee. Sam Walsh isn't so lucky.
The reigning NAB AFL Rising Star winner stays down and is sprawled out on the turf of the Maroochydore Sports Complex, around 15 minutes from the club's base in Mooloolaba, as medics rush to his aid.
Walsh is holding his head and is kicking his legs against the ground in pain. However, if the Carlton hierarchy watching on from the sidelines have taken anything from the midfielder's stunning first year in the AFL system, it's that he's as tough as nails.
A few minutes later, the supremely talented 19-year-old gets to his feet unassisted and limps from the field. Another few minutes pass before he emerges from the clubrooms smiling, with ice strapped to his calf and a bandage wrapped around his head.
Blues officials will tell you that Walsh's work ethic and intensity immediately lifted the team's training standards when he arrived at Ikon Park 12 months ago. They're now saying the same things about Jack Martin, recruited from the Suns in November.
"He's a physical player, really physical, and he's combative – he adds toughness at the man and toughness at the ball," Barker says of Martin.
Indeed, it's that physicality that is evident in every session. He tackles with ferocity, while he disposes of the ball with grace. They're unique parallels that have the club excited about his impact.
Zac Fisher is one inspired by Martin's presence. One minute, the zippy midfielder is dancing through pressure and delivering to teammates with a precise left foot. The next, he's nailing three successive tackles with strength and power.
The diminutive West Australian is one of a number of youngsters who the Blues are hoping for improvement from this season.
Paddy Dow has shed some kilos to ensure his endurance improves through the midfield, Sam Petrevski-Seton is making great strides as a calm ball user off half-back, while there is optimism young duo Marc Pittonet and De Koning can push Matthew Kreuzer in the ruck.
David Cuningham has spent match simulation drills playing as a pure on-baller, defender Tom Williamson looks strong after a frustrating few years with a debilitating back injury, while rookie pair Josh Honey and Matt Owies are impressing as small forwards.
It is hoped the gradual and incremental improvements from those players will build Carlton's depth and bring about a more even spread of performers throughout season 2020.
BIG MEN, BUT NO BIG ISSUES
Walsh might have been floored, but De Koning was barely hobbled.
Rising quickly to his feet, the 203cm ruckman makes his way to the next contest.
Carlton has high hopes for De Koning. He might be closing on 100kg, but his frame still appears slight when stood alongside Kreuzer and Pittonet. He has room to grow and his athletic profile will continue to develop, but the raw talent is there.
The club's ruck coach, Hamish McIntosh, is mightily impressed with what he sees from De Koning. Meanwhile, the recently departed deputy to Kreuzer, Matthew Lobbe, was just as excited with the potential of the 20-year-old during his time at Ikon Park.
The Blues find it promising that De Koning can jump just as effectively from either leg, aiding his versatility in the ruck, while he is strong in the air and clunked a number of big contested grabs when he shifted forward at VFL level for the Northern Blues last season.
It's a good sign, given he might need to fill a role as a forward target early in the 2020 campaign.
While the club was thrilled by its 'big three' in attack at this stage last year – given Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay were seen as the next big things and Mitch McGovern was an exciting new addition from Adelaide – all three have been frustrated this summer.
Curnow is set to be sidelined for an extended period due to dual knee setbacks, McKay has been forced out of training due to an ongoing groin issue, while McGovern remains away from the main group as the club sets its sights on ensuring he is fit and firing for round one.
Carlton officials are confident McKay and McGovern will play in the season-opener against the reigning premiers Richmond, while they are unfazed by the prospect of Levi Casboult filling Curnow's sizeable void as the third tall.
Having spent large portions of last season in an unfamiliar position down back, Casboult is "killing it" this summer in the eyes of Teague and took a series of strong pack grabs close to goal during a marking drill on the Sunshine Coast on Wednesday morning.
Then there's Jack Silvagni and Matt Kennedy, converted midfielders who the club believes can play above their height in the forward line at stages during the upcoming season.
At the opposite end of the field, there is genuine optimism about the return to full fitness of intercept defender Caleb Marchbank.
Behind endurance beasts Ed Curnow, Walsh and youngster Matt Cottrell, the club's high-performance boss Andrew Russell lists Marchbank and Charlie Curnow as the playing group's next best runners.
Now out of a six-month stint in a restrictive brace, having suffered a non-displaced fracture of a vertebrae at the base of his neck last July, Marchbank is back in full training and looks ready to complement Jacob Weitering, Liam Jones and Lachie Plowman in defence.
But while he is assertive and disruptive down back at training on Wednesday morning, during the afternoon he is being used as a prop by Kade Simpson.
Huddled on a small couch in the foyer of the team hotel, Marchbank joins Simpson, Jones and backline coach Amos as the key members of the team's defence help converted half-back Cam Polson pore through vision on a laptop.
Simpson lifts Marchbank from the couch and stations his body as though the latter is an opposition forward, all for the betterment of Polson's positioning.
On another couch nearby, Michael Gibbons goes through similar teachings with Davenport as the development coach lectures the second-year onballer about cutting off opposition angles through his defensive pressure.
STOP MARKING IT, MITCH
Stanton looks enthusiastic as he greets his players, who are returning from a drink break.
"Who's excited for turnovers?" Carlton's transition coach booms with a smile.
The main drill on Wednesday morning was based around how the Blues move the ball on the break. Essentially, a two-on-one favouring the defenders was set up in the hope the ball would be turned over and shifted back to the other end as swiftly as possible.
Before Christmas, the drill wasn't working. Teague knows why. McGovern was the one in attack and, then firing on all cylinders, was marking everything despite being outnumbered.
"We were like, 'whoa this is exciting'," Teague says.
With McGovern sidelined on Wednesday, the drill goes to plan this time around.
Fortunately for Carlton's players in Mooloolaba, grey skies and sweeping rain blanketed the Sunshine Coast for the majority of the day. It's humid – and the majority of the squad still gets to the beach after the session – but it's not that hot.
On Monday, when Russell planned to torch his group through an exhausting series of running drills, it was above 30 degrees and sun-drenched in Maroochydore.
In a stroke of luck for the players, that session had already been brought forward from its originally scheduled time to the early morning so the squad and the coaching staff could return to the team hotel to watch Kansas City face San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
For the rest of the week, overcast conditions and cooler temperatures were, thankfully for the Blues, expected.
Tuesday brought about a beach session in the morning and team meetings in the afternoon, Wednesday was the 'light' run in front of the club's Queensland fans who were invited to attend, Thursday was a day off and Friday was pencilled in for match simulation.
It wasn't all serious business though. Wednesday morning's session began with a game of 'Connect Four', which saw the players – separated into teams – sprint back and forth between a game board made out of cones placed carefully along the ground.
One player would sprint to the board, place down a coloured bib, run back to his team and tag his teammate. The first team to place four bibs in a row won this particular challenge – one of a number of lighter activities completed by the group during the camp.
On Saturday, the majority of the team returned to Melbourne. However, with a four-day break following the camp, others opted to remain on the Sunshine Coast. Some planned to make the hour-long drive to Noosa for a holiday with partners, friends and family.
GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK
Sam Docherty is assured, confident and reliable.
He looks every bit the All-Australian defender of 2017, the one who was in the prime of his career and on the verge of captaining his boyhood club before he was cruelly struck down by successive ACL injuries that forced him to spend two straight seasons on the sidelines.
Russell notes that Docherty's setbacks have meant he's practically done back-to-back pre-seasons. That, combined with his trimmed-down physique, has ensured he has hit the ground running since returning to full duties this summer.
He switches the play with assurance on Wednesday morning, he drives out of the backline with speed and he delivers the ball with precision. He looks back to his best. Until another familiar face makes him look silly.
A fortnight ago, he was playing alongside a fellow returning fan favourite of the Blues in Eddie Betts. After six seasons away from the club, Betts was back – and just as clever as ever.
"Sam was on him and the next minute Eddie has gone through him and cleared his path to goal," Teague laughs, re-telling the story.
"Sam has walked straight off the field and then gone and watched the vision and just said, 'how did he do that? I thought I had him'."
The exciting duals between Docherty and Betts at training this summer have provided Carlton officials with a glimpse of what the returning duo could add at either end of the field this year.
Docherty will bring composure and structure out of the backline, Betts will add a dose of smarts and energy to the forward line. But the other valuable intangible both will offer is leadership.
When Docherty speaks, his players listen. Mature beyond his 26 years, the club's co-captain instantly earned the respect of his teammates when he arrived at the club from Brisbane at the end of the 2013 season.
When it comes to Betts, the admiration he commands from the playing group is evident both on and off the field. On it, Carlton's young group of small forwards soak up every lesson he either speaks or performs. Off it, they're desperate for more advice.
"I was on the sidelines watching the match sim and the ball was kicked to him," Martin, who has only worked with Betts for the last three months, says.
"I just thought, 'he'll get it here … he'll get it … he'll get it'. Sure enough, he got to the drop of the ball somehow and he kicked a goal."
Carlton's players will tell you the return of Docherty and Betts to the training field has inspired a rise in performance levels.
It's now hoped their return to the playing field will inspire further improvement to the foundation Teague helped build late last season.
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