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Focus on 2017 Tiger backs

Line update: Backs Assistant coach, Ben Rutten provides an update on how the backline is shaping up this pre-season.

In the lead-up to the start of season 2017, richmondfc.com.au is examining how the Tigers will shape up this year across all playing lines. We kick off this week with the backline and, first-up, Tony Greenberg takes a look at the Club’s defensive depth.

Alex Rance remains the headline act of Richmond’s defensive group heading into season 2017, but the Tigers are starting to assemble some solid support around him.

Rance is now widely recognised as AFL football’s best key defender, following his excellent exploits on-field throughout the past few seasons.

He gained All-Australian selection for the third year running in 2016 and was runner-up in the Jack Dyer Medal after winning it in 2015.

The 27-year-old veteran of 150 league games with Richmond averaged 18.6 disposals and 7.8 marks per match in his 20 appearances last season.

Within the Tigers’ playing group, he was ranked No. 1 for total marks, No. 1 for rebound-50s, No. 2 for contested marks and No. 6 for total disposals.

Competition-wide, Rance was ranked fourth for marks per game and sixth for one-percenters.

Richmond’s main tall defensive back-up to Rance is David Astbury, who had the best season of his seven-year AFL career in 2016.

Astbury, who turns 26 later this month, played a league career-high 19 games for the season, averaging 13.5 disposals and 6.7 marks.

He was ranked 15th in the competition for marks per game and finished 11th in the Jack Dyer Medal.

Dependable defender Dylan Grimes also had his best season of AFL football last year.

Grimes averaged 12.6 disposals and 4.0 marks per match in his 16 games and finished equal seventh in the Jack Dyer Medal.

The 25-year-old continues to display an impressive capacity to counter the opposition’s tall, medium or small forwards.

Two of the Tigers’ more experienced defenders, Bachar Houli and Steven Morris, sustained serious injuries during the 2016 season, which restricted their overall output.

In their time on-field, however, they were valuable contributors for the team.

Houli (wrist injury) managed only 12 senior appearances, but averaged an impressive 24.9 disposals and 6.7 marks per game.

He was ranked seventh in the competition for rebound-50s per game and finished 17th in the Jack Dyer Medal.

Morris (ruptured ACL) played just eight games, but still finished equal 18th in the Best and Fairest.

In the long-term absence of Houli and Morris, along with the luckless Reece Conca (hamstring), who was being groomed for a small defensive role, two talented Tiger cubs – Jayden Short and Oleg Markov – stepped up in bold style.

Short started his AFL career as a small forward, kicking three goals on debut against Collingwood at the MCG in Round 2, but subsequently developed into an important member of the team’s backline.

He averaged 14.9 disposals per game in his 16 senior appearances and was ranked first among the competition’s rising stars in kicks per game, fourth among rising stars in rebound-50s per game, fifth in total rebound-50s and fifth in total kicks.

Markov averaged 15.4 disposals and 6.2 marks in his eight games at AFL level with Richmond throughout the 2016 season.

He was ranked second among rising stars in rebound-50s per game, second in uncontested possessions per game and third in kicks per game.

Both Short and Markov provided plenty of run out of defence and they showcased top-class kicking skills.

Another valuable contributor across the Tigers’ backline last year was ex-Cat Taylor Hunt, who averaged 18.5 disposals and 5.8 marks per game.

He was ranked 19th in the competition for effective disposals per game and finished 15th in the Jack Dyer Medal.

Richmond’s defensive unit for the upcoming season seems set to be further bolstered with the addition of hard-running Brandon Ellis, while young, key back draftee Ryan Garthwaite has impressed with his work so far during the pre-season.

Throw in Conca, Jake Batchelor and Nathan Broad, and you can see that the Tigers’ defensive depth is clearly developing, with a good blend of strength, speed, skill, experience, energy, enthusiasm and excitement.