Andy Otten has trimmed down this pre-season with the aim of re-establishing his place in the Crows defence.
Otten played four of the opening five games of 2012, but was squeezed out of the team in round six and managed only two more matches for the season.
After two months of strong SANFL form, the 23-year-old was recalled for the clash with West Coast in round 17. He reminded Crows selectors and supporters of his ability, holding in-form Eagles forward Jack Darling to two goals from eight possessions.
However, Otten’s comeback was short lived after post-match scans revealed he’d torn the medial cartilage in his reconstructed left knee in the first quarter. He required surgery and was sidelined for six weeks.
He returned to the side for the Preliminary Final against Hawthorn and, again, held his own this time in the absence of injured pair Daniel Talia and Sam Shaw.
Otten said he could take confidence from his last two games in an otherwise frustrating season.
“I went out of the team in round six and it was hard to get back in because the boys kept winning. I knew I was playing good footy in the SANFL and that I just needed that break,” Otten said.
“I got that chance against West Coast and then got injured straight away … but that’s just the footy gods sometimes. I did all the hard work to get back for finals, which I was proud of, and I was happy to get back into the team and contribute.
“Unfortunately, we just lost against Hawthorn and that was it.”
Determined to reclaim his spot in defence, which was essentially taken over by Shaw, Otten set about improving several key areas of his game by losing weight.
Otten tipped the scales at nearly 92 kilograms at the start of last season, but now sits below 90kg.
“I wanted to trim down a bit and get my speed, agility and repeat effort levels as good as they could be,” Otten said.
“I tried to lose a bit of weight during the season last year, but it was pretty hard to do. So, I used the offseason to do more running and lose the weight naturally rather than starve myself or anything silly like that.
“I’ve been able to do drop a couple of kilos and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. You do notice it and the coaches have said they can see the difference in my movement out on the track. I feel a bit lighter on my feet and more agile.”
Recruited by Adelaide with pick No.27 in the 2007 AFL Draft, Otten enjoyed a breakout season playing as a third tall in defence in 2009. He played all 24 games and finished runner-up to Brisbane Lions onballer Daniel Rich in the NAB Rising Star award.
But he was originally drafted as a tall (192cm) midfielder, and was being groomed to join the Crows onball brigade when he ruptured his ACL in a pre-season training session in December, 09.
He sat out the entire 2010 season and returned as a defender, which is where he believes his position in the team this year lies.
“I’m still going for the third tall, or even running-type of defender,” Otten said.
“With the defence these days, you just play on whoever the best match-up for you is. It could be a tall or a small forward, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to lose some weight, so I could play on the smalls a bit better.
“I just need to stay really aggressive in the pre-season and complete as many sessions as I can. I want to give myself the best opportunity to play in the NAB Cup and play good footy consistently.”
Since playing every game in ‘09’, Otten has added just 21 matches to his career tally.
And entering his sixth year in the AFL, his Rising Star season seems like a distant memory.
“Time really does fly. It’s gone very quickly and I can’t believe it, but I want to get past that 50-game mark and get some games under my belt consistently,” he said.
“I really want to get back in the side and cement my spot again.”
Coach Brenton Sanderson would also like to see Otten playing regular AFL footy, declaring the defender was “too good” not to rebound from an indifferent 2012 season.
“Andy was a bit of a victim of there being too many guys playing well in a similar position,” Sanderson said.
“He wasn’t the only one – there were a lot of guys playing well in the SANFL, who just couldn’t break into the team because we didn’t have many injuries and were in good form.
“There’s a healthy rivalry between a lot of guys and not just in that third tall position. With Brad Crouch coming onto the list, guys like Sam Kerridge improving and Jarryd Lyons and Aidan Riley being a year older with another pre-season under their belts, there will be a lot of guys fighting for the same two or three spots this year.”
However, there is one vacancy in the Adelaide defence following the retirement of Michael Doughty.
“We’ve lost a lot of experience with ‘Dogga’, but we’ve got a number of guys putting their hand up for that spot,” Otten said.
“Luke Brown and Richard Tambling have been doing really well at training. Matt Jaensch is back in full training now, so we have some guys really competing for that spot and I’m sure whoever gets an opportunity will come into the team and do really well.”