AFTER playing just six AFL games last season, Billie Smedts has been one of the standout performers on the training track during the summer.
And the 22-year-old is confident that his efforts will elevate him back into Geelong's best 22.
"I feel like my body has matured a lot over the last 12 months," Smedts told geelongcats.com.au. "I'm really tolerating the sessions and getting through them.
"Being able to back up day after day, and get the best out of each session, has been really good.
"It's been about getting a lot fitter so I can run out games a lot better. I've put on a couple of kilos, but personally I feel like I'm running a lot better than I have in past pre-seasons.
"After the pre-season I've had, I'm really looking forward to the games coming around and giving this year a good crack."
Smedts' career hit a snag when he suffered a fractured leg in Geelong's final practice match against North Melbourne last March.
The injury initially seemed minor, but he was subsequently sidelined for three months. He then battled to find his best form once he was declared fit to play.
Smedts played four AFL games between rounds 11 and 14, before he was sent back to the VFL after a run of indifferent form.
He worked his way back into the AFL team late in the season, but was not selected for either of the Cats' finals matches.
"Last year I thought I had a decent pre-season, and I thought I was in good shape to go into the home and away season," Smedts said. "But the broken leg was very frustrating.
"You miss 12 weeks, then you lose all your pre-season fitness that you worked so hard on over the summer."
Geelong's new fitness staff have introduced the players to a slightly different pre-season program in recent months, with a higher priority placed on running than was the case in the past.
"The running content has got a lot harder," Smedts said. "As a team, we've all taken the challenge on and we're getting through it together.
"It's not easy. Pre-season never is. But at the same time we're always trying to make it enjoyable, so it's been tough but it's been fun."
Smedts, who has played 33 AFL games since making his debut in 2012, has certainly impressed his coaches.
"He's trained really, really well," Geelong's backline coach, Dale Amos, said.
"Particularly post-Christmas, I think the way he's gone about it and his attitude towards feeling like he's part of the AFL team has been really solid.
"He's been doing a lot of work with Matty Scarlett and we can see the benefits of that already.
"All the indications at the moment are that he's preparing himself well and giving himself a chance to play some AFL footy early in the year, which is good.
"In footy terms, he hasn't played a lot of footy, so it's an important stage for him.
"He's in that group of players that we need to really push us forward and establish themselves as senior players.
Having started his career as a small forward, Smedts was moved to the backline last year, and that's where he will start this season.
"I think Bill will have an element of versatility," Amos said. "He's played as a forward before, and you could see him playing as a winger as well, but he's done most of his training as a defender.
"I think that through the NAB Challenge he'll get a bit of exposure down there, which will be good for him. He's looked really comfortable down there."
The Cats kick off their NAB Challenge campaign by taking on Gold Coast in the north Queensland city of Townsville on Sunday, March 1.
Training will remain very intense until then.
"We're not taking a backward step over the next couple of weeks," Smedts said. "It's still going to be tough.
"I'm looking forward to getting through the sessions, then heading up to Townsville and having a good crack up there."