An undermanned and undersized Essendon backline nearly held on valiantly against the Hawthorn onslaught on Saturday night.
With multiple players including Jayden Laverde, Nick Hind and Ned Cahill playing new roles, the backline group was every chance to fall apart completely.
Key defensive general Michael Hurley was missing from the line up, while Cale Hooker spent plenty of time forward.
An eight goal third quarter to the Hawks was difficult to stomach for the Dons.
Speaking before the round one clash, reigning Crichton Medallist Jordan Ridley backed in his new defensive comrades to learn their craft quickly.
The loss of veteran defender and All-Australian Hurley was at the front of the mind of the whole team.
“I definitely think that not only me, but the rest of the back six and whoever ends up playing there, will have to shoulder a bit of the load,” Ridley told Yarra Valley FM.
“Certainly, you lose a lot of that leadership and communication and that old head behind the ball keeping you calm.”
James Stewart was slated for a return to defence after being trialled down back in the 2020 season.
Ridley is keen to see Stewart added back to the line up in the middle of the season.
“Pretty unfortunately for him he’s done a (hamstring) tendon so I think he’s going to miss eight to ten weeks, which he’s super disappointed about,” he said.
“He’s played some really good footy for us, and he’s looking good in the new role.
“Now that he’s had a whole pre-season it was good to get some of that chemistry going, but we’ll definitely miss him. It’ll be good to have him back.”
Jayden Laverde’s shift to a defensive role was met with shock and a sense of doubt from Essendon fans.
Ridley believes that a key part to getting the best out of players is giving them autonomy in where on the ground they play.
“There’s an element of players getting a say and where they see their future,” he said.
“For Jayden, the coaching staff thought he had all the attributes to play as a defender and could really hold down a spot in the team.
“Maybe there’d potentially be more opportunity for him there.
“I definitely think with him switching back, he looked awesome (against Geelong in the AAMI Community series), and he’s really good to play with so I think he can be a real asset for us there.
“The conversation is generally a mix of both player and coach discussing where they see their best footy played and where they can have their biggest impact on the team.”
Top 10 draftee Nik Cox has quickly impressed his new teammates, earning Ridley’s praises early in the season.
“(Cox is) really good on both sides of his body,” he said.
“Hopefully he’ll play for a while for us really early in the season and he looks like a really good player for us in the years to come.”
Cox collected nine disposals and three inside 50s in Saturday night’s loss, while Laverde had 12 touches and five intercept possessions.
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