AFTER an interrupted preseason due to hip surgery, Jackson Thurlow believes it is "all systems go" heading into his second AFL season, a year that he believes there is a "spot for the taking" for him.
The 19-year-old, who has grown in confidence after 12 months in the system, said the major difference physically between now and when he was drafted was his ability to put on more muscle.
"I wasn't able to do much exercise in the off- season, and I came back at about 80 kilograms, when I was playing at about 82 1/2," Thurlow, of Launceston, said.
"Since Christmas, I've put on two or three kilos and I'm weighing in the 83-84-85 range. I'm lifting a lot more in the gym and I'm able to hold longer efforts out there, and my endurance is now better as well.
"So everything has gone up a notch.
"But I'm still really playing catch-up. I haven't had a full preseason yet, and last year I probably did more than a first year player should.
"I wouldn't go as far and say that I feel like an AFL player yet, but I now know I'm at an AFL club and each year that goes by you learn even more."
The 190-centimetre running defender burst onto the scene collecting 17 touches (including 13 in the first half) in front of a crowd 50,000 against Essendon in round 7.
He would play four in a row (with a best of 19 touches against Greater Western Sydney in round 11) before injury impacted the second half of his season, although he did play in the Cats' losing VFL grand final.
Thurlow said the biggest lesson he had learnt was a defensive one.
"The earlier you can set up your defence, your whole attack then takes over.
"You learn so much from players like Corey Enright, Andrew Mackie and Jared Rivers, who have recently been helping us on how to defend the lead and body positioning, as the hardest time to defend is when you are one- out in the 50.
"The way Geelong defends, its full team defence. We attack through our defenders and we switch the footy, so our defenders do set up our whole play."
Thurlow said he believed the Cats' coaching staff were "confident" he could have an impact this year.
"It all just comes down to me now, if I can play a good standard footy that will get me to the AFL.
"Once I get into the team, whenever it is, I don't want to get kicked out of it. But with the guys that have left, I do think there's a spot for me.
"I'm just trying to step it all up a bit, so I look like I belong and that they have no choice but to pick me."
Thurlow, who said he would be happy to be the team's "Mr Fix-It" if needed, was hopeful he could eventually lock- down a wing/half-back position.