Ralph: 10 questions Blues must answer in 2020
After such a positive finish to 2019, how does Carlton ensure it builds on the momentum generated during David Teague's stint as caretaker?
The Blues have regained Eddie Betts, have a star on their hands in Sam Walsh and could yet land Jack Martin in the pre-season draft.
But will it be enough to play finals for the first time since 2013? Jon Ralph assesses the biggest issues at Princes Park heading into 2020.
1. Where does Eddie Betts play?
Forward, of course.
But more to the point, how does Carlton get the best out of a 33-year-old who has clearly lost a yard of pace.
The question is whether he can still do it all, getting to the fall of the ball and the feet of Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Mitch McGovern.
And then moving up field to win the ball and hit up leading targets with the precision kicking that has been his hallmark.
If David Teague had to choose one of those facets of his game it would be the goal impact, putting a leg rope on him 40m from goal to ensure he cashed in on quick ball movement and his lethal finishing skills.
Let Jack Silvagni and Michael Gibbons be the gut-running up-and-back half forwards who play an unrewarded role in the team.
All he needs as a pass mark this season is 30 goals plus the kind of mentoring that allows am Petrevski-Seton and likely addition Jack Martin to shine.
2. What does Carlton do with four ruckmen?
For so long the Blues have relied on Matthew Kreuzer and not much else behind him.
Now Blues fans can't get enough of Tom de Koning after a season of growth as an athletic ruckman in the VFL.
Marc Pittonet comes across from Hawthorn on a long-term deal and Levi Casboult played more than 20 per cent of game time as a mobile ruck who more than stood in for the resting Kreuzer.
It creates the genuine contest for spots that Andrew Phillips and Matthew Lobbe never quite did.
De Koning is only 20 and raw, yet with Kreuzer 31 in May it creates genuine competition for ruck spots and at the very least a potential succession plan.
He is the future, Casboult is the insurance and despite the Blues' faith in Pittonet he needs to prove he is good enough for David Teague to play two rucks all year.
3. What is the evolution of Sam Walsh?
Carlton fans would be happy if he peeled off another 10 seasons of exactly what he dished up in his first year - 554 possessions, 71 clearances, 3.2 tackles a game.
It was one of footy's most accomplished debut seasons for a future captain of the club.
Watching him on Wednesday at training you hoped he had got away for a genuine break to decompress after the rigours of his first year.
So what next? Kick more goals and hit more targets.
Walsh kicked only six goals for the season to go with 13 behinds.
And by Champion Data's ratings, despite elite pressure, contested possessions and clearances his kicking was assessed as poor.
His kicking efficiency was only 54 per cent.
It's churlish to knock any element of his game, but they will be the growth areas for a player who should hit 300 games for Carlton over 15 seasons.
Can't see Walsh suffering second-year blues.
4. Should the Blues have gone harder at Ollie Wines?
In hindsight the Blues probably had enough draft picks to secure Wines given they kept nine and their second and third-rounders in 2020 because of aborted deals for Jack Martin and Tom Papley.
But they didn't want to commit to Wines, who was open to a move, then not have the picks to get it done and lose out on their priority targets.
So the question in 2020 will be whether their midfield is good enough anyway.
Will Setterfield got better as the year went on but the question mark surrounds Matt Kennedy.
He was recruited as a big-bodied clearance specialist and yet turned into a small forward, kicking 11 goals in his last eight games as well as 38 score involvements in that time.
Carlton's midfield progress in 2020 will often be measured against their decision not to chase Wines hard despite his availability.
Yet with Cripps, Ed Curnow, Will Setterfield, Walsh and the wildly talented Zac Fisher in close, they believe they have what it takes to compete against elite midfields.
5. Can Paddy Dow fix his kicking?
Carlton believes the answer is a definitive yes.
But he will need to spend the summer working on his mechanics after his confidence plummeted with ball in hand in 2020.
The No. 3 draft selection went at only 44 per cent kicking efficiency, including two games where he went at less than 20 per cent.
Recruiters say he was always a solid kick in his junior year and yet has deteriorated.
Essendon's Brent Stanton, now at Carlton as an assistant coach, proved during his career you can start as a poor to average kick and turn into something so much more.
6. Is Jack Silvagni in Carlton's best 22?
The son of SOS is always heavily scrutinised, and the question was valid when it looked like Carlton would secure all three of Jack Martin, Eddie Betts and Tom Papley.
But Silvagni's beauty is in his versatility, outside the Blues' top 10 in the best-and-fairest but playing a career-best 17 games.
Is the future a full-on tagging role after successfully limiting Nathan Fyfe?
If he can show he can tag a star midfielder running out of control, can be thrown to half forward to fill a need, and play inside midfield to allow Patrick Cripps to rest he will stay in this side more often than not.
He will never be elite in any one area but after 60 games in four years, he might just become one of footy's great survivors.
7. Is Mitch McGovern in Carlton's side in Round 1?
No, and that is a fantastic thing for Carlton.
He will return to training in a fortnight in career-best shape but the best thing for serial tease McGovern might be a summer where nothing is guaranteed to him.
Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay clearly play in front of him and Levi Casboult's form as a forward means he deserves to be picked before him too.
If Carlton want to play two rucks it makes it hard to play McGovern too.
For all his wondrous gifts his 2016 season with 32 goals is a career-best haul.
Some tough love from David Teague saw him put into fat camp in 2019, and there is no reason why he can't continue that pressure along with the odd cuddle over summer.
8. Will Carlton get Jack Martin in the pre-season draft?
Martin is sure to get to the Blues, with the Suns considered certain to relent despite their huff and puff through president Tony Cochrane.
Martin hasn't spoken with Suns coach Stuart Dew yet but will tell him he isn't returning to the Suns under any circumstances.
How can they redraft him against his will?
And while Melbourne attempted to call Martin's bluff in the days after the trade period - adamant they would consider drafting him - that won't happen either.
Martin has genuine reasons why he doesn't want to be at the Suns that relate to his relationships with ex-Gold Coast players now at the Demons.
It means all signs still point to him getting to Carlton with pick three in the pre-season draft, allowing the Blues to get their man while keeping their second and third-round picks in the 2020 draft.
If those picks end up as 28 and 44, they are worth 1039 draft points, which is about pick 17 (1025 points), so they would be thrilled to get Martin to free.
9. Can the penny drop for Lochie O'Brien?
The Blues have invested significant faith in the wingman, securing him with pick 10 and then playing him in 35 games so far in his two seasons.
Last year he struggled early, ending the year rating poor in disposals, contested possessions, pressure, clearances and scoreboard impact.
Even his much-vaunted kicking was rated only average.
But under David Teague's watch there were signs of life from O'Brien, who begun to back his left foot and even win some inside ball in a handful of critical contests late in games up for grabs.
If he can turn into a regular contributor off the wing and Sam Petrevski Seton can continue his development off half back under Teague, they could have two beautiful ball users for the next 10 years.
10. Was getting rid of Dale Thomas the right decision?
Probably, but if Sam Docherty stays fit then definitely.
The Blues can't play Docherty, Daisy, Lachie Plowman and Kade Simpson and still play the kids off half back.
The Blues will tread carefully with Docherty's return, with the co-captain in America visiting renowned knee rehab specialist.
Consider Docherty's last two years before his injuries.
In 2016 he averaged 109 ranking points, 25.7 disposals, 78 per cent kicking efficiency and 444 metres gained per match.
He backed it up in 2017 averaging 114 ranking points, 27.9 disposals, 76 per cent kicking efficiency, and 504 metres gained.
Imagine what he can do in a half-decent side.
Everyone is crossing fingers, knees and toes, but slotting Sam Docherty into this side playing attacking footy off half back could be a sight to behold.