MELBOURNE fitness boss Darren Burgess reintroduced Demons footballers to training at Casey Fields on Monday with a battery of 1km time trials.
Burgess' off-season arrival was viewed as Melbourne's secret weapon in trying to climb the ladder again, before the coronavirus pandemic stopped everyone in their tracks.
However, star defender Jake Lever – who feels he has returned in even better shape than pre-shutdown – told reporters on Tuesday the fitness guru wasted no time whipping them into shape.
The Demons are training at staggered times in groups of seven with positional teammates, with Lever alongside the likes of fellow backmen Steven May and James Harmes.
"Geez, (Burgess) had a good one yesterday," Lever said with a grin.
"We had a bit of testing. We had four 1km (trials), then topped it off with about 7km of skills, so that was quite fun.
"He stands around like he runs the show, 'Burgo' does. He stands on the sidelines and just barks orders but he's been fantastic ever since he's been here.
"I think the players have really been drawn to him, because of how much experience he's got. It's almost like if 'Burgo' says this is what it is, it is what it is."
Lever wasn't the only one who felt he returned in great condition, with Harmes labelling the ex-Crow as the standout among their group and adding he was "flying around".
"Everyone keeps joking around that it's probably because I've just had a baby and I've been trying to get out of the house and just run all the time," Lever said.
"But personally, I got better, which was fantastic.
"The other guys who've come back, too – I didn't see the second half of the group, so the other 21 players – but the first 21 players ran really well and it was quite impressive to see.
"It just proves everyone is really eager to get back playing, and the seven, eight weeks we had away, everyone trained really hard and we were able to keep each other accountable.
"I think it's going to be important for these three weeks to really build into the season."
Lever and Harmes, who grew up playing for nearby Devon Meadows, were both pleased to have swapped Gosch's Paddock for Casey Fields, despite the longer commute.
The greatest benefit, according to Lever, was the Cranbourne ground's closer dimensions to the MCG.
The fact only Aaron Nietschke (knee), Kade Kolodjashnij (concussion) and Aaron vandenBerg (foot) are on Melbourne's long-term injury list also bodes well for the club's chances of bouncing back.
"I think even before it was going to be a shorter season, we were really looking forward to stamping our authority on the competition," Lever said.
"We really want to make up for what happened last year.
"As a club, we don't really talk a lot about what happened last year and I thought we did really well in the two pre-season games, then round one (against West Coast) just really wasn't us – we make no excuse for that.
"We spoke about that yesterday and we'll probably speak about that more today, and it was really disappointing to see and be involved in that result, because I felt like it wasn't us."
Lever said the Demons had prioritised improving their defensive transition and inside 50 connection, as well as again becoming the AFL's No.1 contested ball-winning team.