Fremantle coach Ross Lyon has challenged his middle-tier players to take more responsibility for the club’s on-field fortunes this season and release the burden on stars like Matthew Pavlich.

Star ruckman Aaron Sandilands, key midfielder David Mundy and captain Pavlich – Fremantle’s last three club champions – have been well supported at different stages of the past two years by defender Luke McPharlin and young midfielders Michael Barlow and Nat Fyfe.

However, Lyon said it was time for middle-tier players such as Paul Duffield, Michael Johnson and Garrick Ibbotson to lift their performances and take ownership of the team’s fortunes.

“I’m just coming in to know them, [but] certainly they’re at a stage of their careers where they need to take responsibility for the Dockers on game day, our performance,” Lyon told AFL.com.au this week.

“They’re six, seven, eight-year players who on perception have got really good football talent and have had really good years and some average years.

“We’re just looking to make sure that they have a good year, all of them, and then we’ll collectively be better.”

Johnson (22 games in 2011) and Duffield (21) both suffered dips in form last season, while Ibbotson (18) was on the back foot after an interrupted pre-season.

Despite the club’s injury woes, none of the trio finished inside Fremantle’s top 10 in the Doig Medal, which was won by Pavlich for a sixth time.

Lyon had an outstanding record at St Kilda for getting high levels of performance out of middle-tier players and he said he would aim to reproduce those results at Fremantle.

“Certainly there were some really good stories previously of players playing their best football and really improving [at St Kilda],” Lyon said.

“Some of the so-called less fashionable people making really strong contributions, like Robert Eddy, Andrew McQualter, Clint Jones, those types of guys, I’m really proud of that and that’s the aim here.

“We just want everyone to be the best they can be and provide an environment that allows them to grow if they work really hard. We talk about being what you want to be.”

While Ibbotson has spent a long time in the club’s rehab group this summer after three operations, including a shoulder reconstruction, Lyon said Duffield and Johnson had enjoyed “really intense, hard-working pre-seasons”.

Underlining the improvement he expects across the board from Fremantle, he said Ibbotson needed to be turned into an “elite running back or midfielder”.

Ryan Crowley is another player who has trimmed down under Lyon’s regime and is expected to improve under the new coach.

Lyon said Crowley had lost eight kilograms and, with a strong record as a run-with player, would be expected to produce his best football in 2012.

“He’s really tightened up, not so much on the type of food he was eating, but probably volumes,” the coach said.

“He’s had a really strong summer and he’s running fit, match fit, and we’re excited to see Ryan play his best football.

“You need to have an offensive side to your game [as a run-with player] which clearly Ryan has.

“I know when he used to play on Nick Dal Santo he had a good record as an offensive threat; that was something I was always worried about as an opposition coach.”

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