Melbourne utility Alex Neal-Bullen could be one Demon primed for more midfield action in 2024.

The attacking 28-year-old was among Simon Goodwin's top centre bounce attendees at Sunday's pre-season clash with Richmond, rolling up to 22 central stoppages - a rate of 64.7% for his side (per The Herald Sun) - to come away with 23 disposals for the day.

Neal-Bullen attended just 14 centre bounces (2%) for the entire 2023 campaign, with his season-high possession haul coming in at 22 disposals - also against Richmond in Round 20 last July.

Alongside fellow South Australian Tom Sparrow, Neal-Bullen could be among the Demons to benefit most from Clayton Oliver's early season absence this year as Goodwin looks to mix and match his midfield formations.

Only Sparrow (25 CBAs) and Jack Viney (27) had a greater look in the middle among Melbourne's onballers, while both Christian Petracca (16) and Kysaiah Pickett (8) managed to have a resounding impact in the front half of the field.

Coming off a 19-goal season in the red and blue, Neal-Bullen could be set for further time up the field alongside Pickett, with Goodwin potentially looking at Petracca as a high-volume attacking option following a year of inconsistent forward of the ball.

Oliver's eventual return - potentially for the Demons' Opening Round trip to Sydney - will have an immense influence on how Goodwin's midfield structure unfolds, however fitness concerns could see the four-time best and fairest winner spend more time outside of the engine room to start the season.

Alex Neal-Bullen during the 2022 AFL Round 1 match between Melbourne and Western Bulldogs (Photo by Cameron Grimes / Zero Digital Media)

Jack Billings' floated move into midfield wasn't displayed at Casey Fields on Sunday, with the former Saint featuring in just two CBAs for the morning, equal with young midfield-forward Bailey Laurie across the opening four terms.

While Billings might've been viewed as the man to replace the void left by either James Harmes or James Jordon in the middle, that position could be taken by Neal-Bullen instead if Sunday's action was anything to go by.

Neal-Bullen had the nine midfielders attend more CBAs than him last year - a list that includes Harmes, Jordon, Pickett and half-back Trent Rivers.

His craft as a front-half threat against the Tigers was sure to give Goodwin something to consider heading toward the club's next practice match against Carlton, where Oliver is also likely to feature against more senior opposition.

There might be no better midfield unit to set the standard than the Blues', with the star-studded selection of Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh, Adam Cerra, Matthew Kennedy and George Hewett each set to test the Demons in their first meeting together since last year's semi-final thriller.

Embed from Getty Images

Neal-Bullen had one of his stronger outings of 2023 that night, collecting 18 disposals, four tackles, eight contested possessions, and five inside 50s against Michael Voss's men.

Prior to Sunday's hitout, Neal-Bullen last attended a centre bounce in Round 11 last year, with a bigger look at the coalface likely to come next week if Goodwin plans to utilise the Mitchell Park junior for their season opener in early March.

The aforementioned Sparrow looks to be the big riser among Melbourne's midfield unit however, with his inside guile to be relied on in Oliver's potential absence.

Looking to return from off-season concussion concerns and a recent illness, Angus Brayshaw is another who will be considered for midfield minutes to start the season, having sat behind only Oliver, Petracca, Viney and Sparrow on last year's CBA count.