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Dawson puts his faith in back six
Zac Dawson at training yesterday. Pic: Simon Santi/WA News

Zac Dawson has predicted Fremantle's back six will improve again this season after becoming one of the most miserly defensive groups in the competition last season.

In his first year at the club, the former Saint became a key member of a Fremantle defence which was one of the toughest to score against, conceding on average fewer points than any other team barring premiers Sydney.

The Swans' average score against in 2012 was 72, compared with Fremantle's 77. Next best were runners-up Hawthorn (80).

Dawson played 18 games last year, including strong performances in both finals in which he kept Kurt Tippett to one major and Geelong spearhead Tom Hawkins goalless in the absence of All-Australian Luke McPharlin.

He said the defenders had had a year to gel and were well equipped to improve on last season.

"I think this year we are probably going to step up again," he said.

"We are a close back six, we have worked really hard over the summer to improve and it is going to be pretty exciting to see how we go."

Dawson said the retirement of Adam McPhee had created an opportunity for a younger player to fill the void.

"I think it is going to be one of the young boys who steps up," he said.

"So far Garrick Ibbotson has been playing that kind of role, and Paul Duffield. They are going to have to add the hard edge."

Dawson said he was unsure whether he, McPharlin, Michael Johnson and Alex Silvagni could all fit in the back six at one time.

"I would like to say yes but it obviously depends on the match-ups," he said.

Dawson, who turned 27 last weekend, said it was hard to believe he was heading into his 10th season in the AFL.

"Surprisingly I am getting old," he said. "I only started playing genuine AFL footy probably four years ago when I first got to St Kilda."

He had been eased into training before Christmas but had ramped up his program in recent weeks and expected to play the remaining NAB Cup games to be ready for round one.

"Over the weekend I got a bit more match fitness and I am starting to come good now," he said.

"All through pre-season you are thinking about that first game.

"To have the derby first-up is going to be pretty exciting."

Captain Matthew Pavlich and club champion Ryan Crowley trained strongly yesterday but are unlikely to play against Carlton on the weekend after being named on the club's injury list last night. Pavlich was listed as a week away with a back problem while Crowley (calf) was listed as a test.

Michael Walters, who injured an ankle in Adelaide last weekend, trained away from the main group with fellow small forward Hayden Ballantyne, who has a minor adductor issue.

There was no sign of star midfielder Stephen Hill after he suffered a slight shoulder injury against the Crows.