Melbourne skipper Nathan Jones is exceeding expectations as he recovers from neck surgery.
Jones, 27, had an operation in September to repair a prolapsed disc that troubled him for most of the 2015 season.
He is yet to join in full training with the rest of his teammates but has impressed with his progress through a modified individual program.
“He’s ahead of where we thought he’d be at this stage (and) we’ve still got a bit of time to get him right,” Demons football chief Josh Mahoney told the league’s website.
“We’d expect him to be ready to go by the start of the AFL season.”
Jones still managed to play all 22 games for Melbourne this year and finished fifth in the club’s best-and-fairest count.
The news isn’t as good for fellow midfielder Ben Newton, who has undergone surgery after suffering an ankle injury.
The former Port Adelaide onballer played 11 games in his first season with the Demons but faces a late start to his 2016 campaign, with the operation to sideline him until February.
“Ben will be out for a while,” Mahoney said. “He hurt a tendon in his ankle prior to starting with the group.
“He had an operation on his ankle two weeks ago and he is the one player who won’t do much training prior to Christmas.”