Essendon coach Ben Rutten says it's too early to tell whether Dyson Heppell will be fit to return next week after ruling the star skipper out of Saturday night's crunch clash with St Kilda at Marvel Stadium.
Heppell was a late withdrawal from last week's 54-point AFL loss to Port Adelaide with a back spasm.
Rutten doesn't want to take any long-term risks with Heppell, and the midfielder is no certainty to return for week's match against Sydney at the SCG.
"It's too early to tell. I'm not sure," Rutten said.
"He's just got a bit of an inflamed disc really.
"He's improving every day. But it's just whether are we prepared to push it to get him up this week, or do we want to make sure that's he's going to be right for the remainder of the season.
"That's our main priority. Maybe we're being a little bit more conservative with him, but he won't play this week."
Last week's defeat to Port Adelaide was further compounded by serious injuries to Jye Caldwell (hamstring), Sam Draper (ankle) and Dylan Shiel (knee)
Essendon will welcome back forward Jake Stringer against the Saints, while Archie Perkins - the No.9 pick from last year's national draft - and former Eagle Alec Waterman have been named for their AFL debuts.
Perkins made headlines last year when he told interstate clubs before the draft that it wasn't in their best interests to select him given he wanted to stay in Victoria.
Waterman, the son of dual West Coast premiership player Chris Waterman, had his time at the Eagles cut short due to a serious case of glandular fever which affected his energy levels for years after.
Essendon are already staring down the barrel of a tough season after losing their opening two games.
Rutten said he was surprised at the criticism he has copped for his decision to coach from the bench during the opening two rounds.
Former Kangaroos star David King even went as far as to call Rutten "Ben Idle" for an apparent lack of engagement with the players during Essendon's round-one loss to Hawthorn.
"It was a bit surprising," Rutten said of the criticism he copped.
"It's something I haven't done before. I spent two games down there, and there's certainly some benefits to it
"You certainly get a greater feel for the game and the players coming on and off.
"So to be able to give a lot of feedback is a big advantage."