Essendon captain Dyson Heppell has lauded Zach Merrett for bouncing back to be reinstated in the club's 2021 leadership group.
Merrett, who was in the leadership group from 2016 to 2019 before missing out in 2020, was this week included in a streamlined group as joint vice-captain alongside Michael Hurley and Andrew McGrath.
Heppell said the dual Crichton medallist had worked hard to turn last year's omission into a positive.
"It’s awesome for Zach. He’s a tremendous leader," Heppell told the media on Thursday.
"He developed a helluva lot last year, and he handled not being in the leadership group extremely well. He developed his leadership right throughout the year and has come back in an awesome space.
"It (re-inclusion) shows the respect that he’s got from not only the playing group, but the club and broader staff as well."
The Bombers' 2021 leadership group was voted by the players and football staff, with senior coach Ben Rutten having the final say.
Heppell said Rutten had quickly earned the respect of the players in his first pre-season at the helm.
"He’s looking really comfortable in the role. I’m loving the way he’s going about it," he said.
"He’s got enormous respect from the playing group. We all back him 100 per cent and have enjoyed the way he’s been able to galvanise the group."
Embarking on his fifth successive season as captain, Heppell said building a strong culture was one of the leadership group's key focuses this year as the Bombers look to rectify a disappointing 2020 season.
"Everyone’s trying to build a strong culture," he said.
"It’s a great focus of ours this pre-season, trying to build our strength and relationships right across the club. I think that will stack up really well."