Hard-nosed midfielder Jye Caldwell made a stirring return from injury while key forward Kaine Baldwin impressed in his first game as a Bomber in a scratch match at Windy Hill on Sunday.

Having been sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered in round two, Caldwell showed no ill-effects from a lengthy layoff, starring for Essendon on limited minutes in a combined hitout with Gold Coast against Sydney.

VFL senior coach Leigh Tudor praised Caldwell for his impact.

"His touch, clean hands and hardness at the ball was a standout. He was next level," Tudor said.

"He laid big tackles, copped big tackles, was really clean below his knees, and his peripheral vision and awareness of where his teammates were under pressure was first-class.

"He won a lot of hard balls and used it well. It was pretty impressive. He looked strong and ran really hard."

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Rd 1 | Caldwell highlights

Watch Jye Caldwell's best moments from his first game in the red and black.

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Like Caldwell, Baldwin made his presence felt in a half of footy, booting two goals and laying several bone-crunching tackles.

The 19-year-old, who last week signed a one-year contract extension after arriving at Essendon in this year's pre-season supplemental selection period, has made dual recoveries from two separate ACL injuries in his short career.

Tudor said Baldwin showed glimpses of what saw him touted as a first-round draft pick in 2020, praising the South Australian for his time well spent on the sidelines.

"Kaine played the first half and only had one rotation each quarter, so he played a fair bit of game time. He just looked really strong," he said.

"As a key-position player, his want to defend, tackle and apply pressure in our forward half created two or three goals. His first goal was from a really physical tackle. It was really exciting and the boys were up and about.

"The most impressive thing was his understanding of how we want to play. He’s done a lot of work to get to this point, not just physically but understanding how we play.

Kaine Baldwin impressed in his first hitout as a Bomber. (Photo: AFL Photos)

"He’s done a lot of extra work with coaches and by himself just watching vision and understanding our game-plan. Even when we’ve got VFL training on Monday night, you look around and he’s out there on the nets doing some extra hands and touch work by himself.

"It’s (hard work) really paid off for him. It’s a great example of not wasting time and being in a hurry to join in.

"Like Caldwell, he had very good touch and gave himself every chance to play well because of what he's done in long-term rehab. 'Lynchy' (head of rehabilitation Ashley Lynch) and the medical and high-performance teams have done an amazing job with both of the boys."

The Bombers are scheduled to play their final VFL game of the season against the Giants this weekend, but serious doubt clouds the VFL season after Melbourne's lockdown was today extended to September 2.

Despite no VFL games in the past three weeks, Tudor said the Bombers' reserves were still in a strong position to press their claims for senior selection, particularly after Sunday.

"It was a high-class scratch match. A lot of these games can be open and flowing, but this was a really tough, contested game with lots of defence from Sydney, but also from our guys. It was like a proper VFL game," he said.

"We got everything we needed out of it. Our guys on the fringe got good game-time and performed well, and I know ‘Truck’ (senior coach Ben Rutten) will be really happy with the quality of the game. If anything happens with injuries and changes need to happen, there are some guys who have put their hands up.

"No one is petering out the year in the VFL. They’re all having a crack and trying to deliver on game day to give themselves every chance to put pressure on the senior guys."