Justin Leppitsch has pinpointed how reborn defender Josh Schache can fortify his game, and anchor the Western Bulldogs’ back six as they tilt at a second premiership in six seasons.
Swung back for the Dogs’ Round 19 meeting with Melbourne, the former No. 2 selection was instantly put under the pump by a hamstring injury to defensive linchpin Alex Keath.
Schache thrived, recording 17 possessions, nine intercepts and two contested marks in a 20 point win, and backed it up with eight marks and five intercepts against Adelaide on Saturday.
Leppitsch believes the nucleus of a long-term defender is there, and Luke Beveridge and the Dogs’ development coaches can now invest further in the ex-Lion’s craft.
“He’s staying there, and I’m giving him some extra training,” he told SEN’s Whateley.
“As far as a starting point for training goes, just the hand-to-hand combat component.
“It’s a little bit of grappling style, almost like an NFL player would do, (like) a lineman with a lot of that pushing and shoving and probing.
“(Just) getting best position and getting your opposition out of the way without giving away a free kick.”
Schache led former Crows captain Taylor Walker to the ball more often than not, and even held his own in a couple of physical contests, but he was twice outmarked when isolated.
“It’s one of the great skills a key position player can have,” Leppitsch continued.
“Just keep training him up in that space, because the few he was beaten on, he just wasn’t handsy enough to own best position.”
Keath and Ryan Gardner, the pillars in the Dogs’ first-choice defensive pairing earlier in the season, are unavailable for 2-3 weeks and 1-2 weeks respectively.
Lewis Young is available for selection but can’t match Schache for continuity in the role, having been rotated through other positions.
Zaine Cordy has lined up in the Bulldogs’ back six in every game from Round 6, but slender with strong closing speed, he is best deployed as a second defender.
A return to the backline for Aaron Naughton has long been speculated, but the 21-year-old has booted 37 goals in 18 games.
Moreover, Naughton was sidelined under concussion protocols for the Round 17 loss to the Swans, and the Dogs’ movement and forward structure was much poorer for his absence.
Schache will therefore have every chance to cement his place behind the ball, and attempt to answer the one lingering doubt around the ladder-leaders’ first team.
“You’ve got no choice in a lot of ways, but there’s enough there to work with, he had enough positives,” the former Richmond assistant concluded.
The Dogs will defend top spot from a surging Geelong when they host Essendon at Marvel Stadium from 3:20pm on Sunday afternoon.