New Adelaide coach Don Pyke knows what is wrong with the Crows.
But he also knows he’s taking over an AFL side that does a lot right.
“The fact that we finished the way we did last year and won a final means that I, in the unique circumstances, took over a side that is doing a lot of things well,” Pyke told AAP.
“So I clearly came in and didn’t say `we’ll start from the beginning again’.”
Pyke inherits a Crows side which endured the most challenging of seasons last year: the alleged murder of then-coach Phil Walsh cut the club to its core, as it did the wider sporting world.
Pyke, 47, is Adelaide’s 10th coach since entering the AFL in 1991 but its sixth in the past five years.
While keeping much of Walsh’s blueprint, Pyke said he was intent on fixing glaring deficiencies: sloppy skills, a leaky defence, and lack of speed.
The Crows recruited fleet-footed utilities Paul Seedsman (ex-Collingwood) and Curtly Hampton (ex-Greater Western Sydney).
But rectifying poor skills and conceding big scores looms large in Pyke’s plans.
“We were 17th last year in both handball and kicking efficiency … so we have worked quite hard on just the fundamentals of our skill,” he said.
The Crows conceded, on average, more than 89 points a match last season – a worrisome figure for the new coach.
“We were very efficient at scoring, we were 100-plus points (on average) for our scoring. But our defence overall … is an area we have got to tighten up,” he said.
Adelaide’s backline relies heavily on fullback Daniel Talia, who rarely gets beaten. But can the likes of Kyle Cheney, Kyle Hartigan and Jake Lever consistently offer adequate cover?
And in the pivotal midfield, Pyke must try and replace the irreplaceable: last year’s club champion Patrick Dangerfield, now at Geelong.
“I don’t know a world with him in the team … people talk about the impact of losing him but I think it just creates great opportunity for others,” Pyke said.
He nominated Brad Crouch, who missed all of last season with injury, Jarryd Lyons and Cam Ellis-Yolmen as midfielders sensing a chance to make an imprint on an onball brigade led by Scott Thompson, Rory Sloane and Richard Douglas – all reliably fed by premier ruckman Sam Jacobs.
“These days, the best teams are playing as many as they can through the midfield,” Pyke said.
That trend would this season be “unavoidable”, he said, due to the lowering of the interchange cap to 90 changes a game.
Adelaide’s attack looms as its trumpcard, boasting goalkickers of assorted size from imposing captain Taylor Walker and Josh Jenkins, to mid-sized Tom Lynch, and small livewires Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron.
They have added ex-Carlton goalsneak Troy Menzel to the attacking mix as Pyke prepares for a senior coaching baptism of fire: in the first eight rounds, Adelaide play six finalists from last year and two clubs – Geelong and arch-rivals Port Adelaide – who finished ninth and 10 respectively.
“Yeah, our challenges are slightly tougher early,” Pyke said.
“But that just means we have got to be ready and make sure we jump out of the blocks.”
Coach: Don Pyke
Captain: Taylor Walker
Last five years: 14-3-11-10-6
Premierships: 2 (1997-98)
Key five: Sam Jacobs, Daniel Talia, Eddie Betts, Rory Sloane, Taylor Walker
One to watch: Brad Crouch. Because of various injuries, barely sighted since 2013 when he was the Rising Star runner-up. Didn’t play at all last season, but that hasn’t stopped Crows fans looking at him to fill the gaping hole left by Patrick Dangerfield’s defection. Crouch is a prolific ball-winner, boasts slick skills and has an innate footy brain – but can his body hold up?
Ins: Jonathon Beech (West Adelaide, SANFL), Tom Doedee (Geelong U18), Dean Gore (Geelong), Hugh Greenwood (unregistered rookie), Curtly Hampton (Greater Western Sydney), Paul Hunter (Redland, NEAFL), Jake Kelly (Oakleigh U18), Alex Keath (unregistered rookie), Troy Menzel (Carlton), Wayne Milera (Central District SANFL), Paul Seedsman (Collingwood).
Outs: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Sam Kerridge (Carlton), Brodie Martin (delisted), Jack Osborn (delisted), James Podsiadly (retired), Brent Reilly (retired), Sam Siggins (delisted), Anthony Wilson (delisted), Matthew Wright (delisted)
B: Ricky Henderson, Daniel Talia, Rory Laird
HB: Luke Brown, Kyle Cheney, Nathan van Berlo
C: Brodie Smith, Scott Thompson, David Mackay
HF: Charlie Cameron, Tom Lynch, Troy Menzel
F: Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins
R: Sam Jacobs, Rory Sloane, Richard Douglas
I: Brad Crouch, Riley Knight, Jake Lever, Paul Seedsman
Predicted finish: 11th
Betting (William Hill):
To win the flag: $34
To make the top eight: $2.35