ONE OF the great things about the pre-season is the fresh optimism.

Players are faster, better and stronger. The grass is greener. The air is sweeter.

It's the case at Visy Park, where Carlton is preparing for a season that promises much and will demand a return to build on 2008's 11th-place finish.

Forward Brad Fisher's dislocated elbow aside, everything is going swimmingly for the Blues.

"I think everybody that speaks about our pre-season is happy with the way it’s progressing," Carlton football manager Steven Icke told

"But of course, every club at this time of the year is saying they’re fitter, they’re faster, they’re stronger.

"But we’re very happy with the way our pre-season’s gone.

"The way the players have responded to it, their attitude to the pre-season and some of the training outcomes we've been getting [has been great]."

Icke said coach Brett Ratten and his staff have maintained a similar approach to last pre-season but that the players were responding well to an heightened workload.

"There’s a lot of focus on game style, which is important, so a lot of training has been around that and ball movement," he said.

"It's nothing different to what the other clubs would be doing, they’d all be concentrating on those sorts of things.

"Our fitness program has been elevated to another level simply because the bodies are more mature and able to adapt to tougher training regimes.

"We’re starting to see the benefits of that."

With the expectation for every team to improve, Icke recognises that Carlton needs to take a stronger step than others to avoid simply treading water.

"Unless you’re reaching those performance gains yourself, then all you’re doing is marking time with the rest of the competition," he said.