Essendon coach James Hird has pinpointed ruckman Tom Bellchambers as his standout performer during pre-season.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a strong season last year despite pressure from Paddy Ryder and David Hille for the number one ruck spot.

Asked who had impressed him throughout the summer, Hird was full of praise for the 202cm Bellchambers.

"Tom Bellchambers is really training very well and is looking to take the number one ruck mantle at the moment," Hird said on Friday.

"We've got a good back-up in David Hille as well. Tommy's been really outstanding with his pre-season so far."

Hird said improvement in defence would be a key this season, but believes the Bombers will have a better run with injuries.

Soft-tissue injuries plagued Essendon after a strong start to 2012, with captain Jobe Watson saying last week several of his team-mates have looked to get 'a bit lighter'.

But Hird said most of his players were the same weight as last year but are now capable of dealing with it after last pre-season was focused on strength.

"Pretty much most of the guys are the same weight they were last year, they're just able to handle it better because they're a year on," he said.

"We've trained a bit harder, we've run a bit harder than we did last year but that was always part of a program.

"You're building up over three or four years with players and we've done that with the guys and we've run a bit more."

Michael Hurley missed most of last pre-season because of injury but Hird said he had completed '95 percent' of training leading into 2013.

The 22-year-old will be expected to play at both ends of the ground, and Hird said his improved running ability would make him a better player this year.

"Michael completed before the season started two weeks of training so there's no doubt he's in a much better position than he was last year," Hird said.

"It will give him a chance to play a bit higher up the ground in a forward role or a bit higher in a backline role.

"We expect him to play both ends of the ground at certain times."


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