Fremantle defender Garrick Ibbotson has backed coach Ross Lyon’s call for the team’s middle-tier to improve this season and release the burden on stars like Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands.

Lyon has challenged established players like Ibbotson to take more responsibility for Fremantle’s on-field fortunes this year, with the team overly reliant on its top bracket of players.

Ibbotson, who will either play in the WAFL or take part in match simulation training this weekend to round out his pre-season, said the players under notice had risen to the coach’s challenge this summer.

“There’s always room for improvement and I think there’s a lot of guys on our list who are really making good in-roads in that department,” Ibbotson said on Wednesday.

“Pavlich, Sandilands and [David] Mundy are going to be really consistent all year round, but it’s the next few guys down where we’re going to find our improvement.

“I’d like to either step into a midfield role or really perform a bit better than I did last year as a defender.”

Ibbotson has been managed this pre-season after having a shoulder reconstruction. He played in Fremantle’s shortened round one NAB Cup matches before returning to face Hawthorn in round four.

The 24-year-old said he hadn’t played as much as he would have liked this pre-season, but a solid fitness base could still see him move into the midfield as Lyon manages the return of key on-ballers Mundy and Michael Barlow.

“I have done a lot of running and that’s important for fitness and my own confidence going into games,” he said. “I think I’m really across the game-plan and physically I feel ready to go.

“I played the majority back last year and I’m pretty comfortable playing there, so Ross wanted me to have a go in the midfield and really get used to some of the things that are going on in there.”

Fremantle’s round one midfield appears likely to include Barlow and Sandilands, but Mundy remains in doubt for the season opener against Geelong at Patersons Stadium on March 31.

Nat Fyfe, Stephen Hill, Hayden Ballantyne and Greg Broughton have taken on more midfield responsibility through the NAB Cup, and Ibbotson said the team would be ready for the reigning premiers.

“We think we’re in a really good position now to really have a crack at Geelong, who are obviously the benchmark from last year,” he said. “We can’t wait until next week.

“We’ve had the four NAB Cup games to practice and try out a few new things, so as far as preparation goes, we’re really confident with where we’re at.”

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