New backline coach James Kelly says Essendon veteran Cale Hooker is again likely to be utilised at both ends of the ground this year.

The experienced Bomber predominantly plays as a key defender, but he has also proven valuable in the forward line at stages throughout his career. 

Hooker booted 41 goals in 2017 when in a more permanent forward position before shifting back to his more familiar defensive role in the past two seasons.

That didn’t stop him from almost single-handedly dragging a handful of games back into Essendon’s favour in 2019, where he kicked crucial goals against Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and Gold Coast in the space of just five weeks.

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Back in defence, Hooker racked up career-high game averages for marks (7.6), rebound 50s (7.7) and intercept possessions (7.1), and it is that impressive reliability that has Kelly itching to keep the 31-year-old in his territory. 

“It’s a luxury for us to have a player like him that we know can impact at both ends,” Kelly told RSN on Friday. 

“It might even happen during games sometimes – if we feel like we’re locked away down back and we’re all good, then we can throw him forward to help us score.

“That’s always going to be a question with ‘Hooksy’ and it’s a question because he’s so talented and he’s so impactful in the air. 

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“It’s a luxury for me to have him available in the backline and also for (forwards coach) Dan Jordan to have him available in the forward line, too.

“We’ll just see how it pans out, but I’m sure he’ll spend time at both ends at some stage.”

Key forward Joe Daniher is set to miss the start of the 2020 season, but Kelly is confident the Bombers have enough firepower to fill the void the star Bomber leaves behind. 

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“People tend to forget about Shaun McKernan, who is down there as well,” he said.

“He has been brilliant all pre-season and he was really good last year when Joey wasn’t around. 

“With him, Jake Stringer, Jayden Laverde and Kyle Langford we feel like we’ve got enough aerial power down there, which is the case I present about having ‘Hooksy’ still being in the backline.”

This season will be Kelly’s first in charge of the backline following his time as a development coach, working most recently with the midfielders in 2019.

James Kelly will take care of the Bombers' backline in 2020. (Photo: Essendon FC)

While he said leading the defenders has been a big change that requires “a different way of thinking”, he is taking plenty of enjoyment out of the new experience.

“You’re teaching the boys around the midfield to put pressure on the ball and be good around the contests and stoppages, and you’re a little bit reliant on that down in the backline.

“I’m really fortunate that I’m taking over a group that’s already been really well coached by Mark Harvey – that’s a bit of a luxury for me. 

“It’s a really good group of blokes and I’ve really enjoyed doing it so far.”

The Bombers’ pre-season games are due to kick off on February 27 when they face West Coast in the Marsh Community Series at Mineral Resources Park.