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Matt Cassel invites teammates to crash on his couch in Kansas City

Matt Cassel, Justin Bannan

Just as Saints quarterback Drew Brees is picking up the tab for getting the whole team together to work out in New Orleans, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is telling teammates they have a place to stay if they come to Kansas City for team activities.

Cassel told the Kansas City Star that he has reached out to receiver Jonathan Baldwin, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a fifth-round pick, and invited them to come to Kansas City and get to work.

“We’re making arrangements trying to get them out here as well, even if they have to come out and stay with me for a few days,” Cassel said. “I told [Baldwin] I’m excited he’s with us. I told him to get settled and let everything kind of sink in and then get out here and start to get to work. That’s going to be the biggest challenge is getting some of those younger guys up to speed because they’re not going to be able to have the coaching and the extra time at the facility to go through the playbook. So they’ll have to rely on myself and some of the other leaders as well.”

The Chiefs haven’t had the kind of turnout that the Saints had, with 37 players showing up for the first day of the Brees-led activities, but Cassel says he spent four hours with new offensive coordinator Bill Muir and new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn on Friday during the brief time when the lockout was lifted, and that he’s now passing along that coaching with a few teammates at a time.

“I’ll usually put together a small group of guys and go out on the field to do some things,” Cassel said. “Right now, it’s a little awkward because not everybody’s in town. So what I’m going to try to do is to get people to come back to town and get us really in the full swing of things and have everybody working out here. We’re going to try to get a larger group of guys. We’ve had guys who have flown in, and they’ve stayed with me for a few days and we’ve gone out and done some field work and some throwing. That’s been good for us to get that one-on-one time.”

And with Cassel’s offer of a place to stay, that one-on-one time extends beyond the practice field.

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Our discoveries, after tracking pre-draft visits and workouts

2011 NFL Draft Getty Images

For the last two offseasons, PFT has used the media and our own resources to track pre-draft visits and workouts. We’ve hoped to find a connection between those meetings and what happens on draft day.

Visits and workouts are often written off as smokescreens, routine due diligence, or mere medical checks by observers unwilling to put in the time necessary to track them.

But we are willing.

And here are our findings:

1. In 2011, twelve of the top-14 picks either worked out for or visited their team before the draft. The only players who did not work out for or visit the team they were picked by were Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Jags G.M. Gene Smith did personally attend Gabbert’s Insight Bowl game against Iowa, however, and the Texans don’t use pre-draft visits on first-round prospects. Which brings us to our next discovery.

2. Some teams don’t use any pre-draft visits on elite prospects. The Texans, Bears, Jaguars, and Packers concern themselves almost strictly with late-round, undrafted types when scheduling visits. For example, the player drafted earliest with whom we know Green Bay formally visited was Markell Carter, the 194th overall pick. The Raiders and Colts, for the most part, also fall into this category.

And either the Houston media is not at all concerned with reporting pre-draft visits and workouts, or the Texans just don’t have many of them. (Our guess is the former.) We counted a league-low six Texans pre-draft visits, and each team is allowed up to 30.

3. 21 of this year’s 32 first-round picks visited or privately worked out for the team that drafted them. One notable outlier was Seahawks tackle James Carpenter. “We tried staying under the radar with this guy,” Seattle G.M. John Schneider confirmed during Carpenter’s introductory press conference. “I told our group … we were very proud of them that his name never got out.” The Seahawks rated Carpenter as the No. 2 offensive lineman in the entire draft.

But the connection is still strong between first-round picks and pre-draft meetings. Throw out the Texans, Bears, Jaguars, Packers, and Colts for reasons mentioned in point No. 2 here, and there was a 77.8 percent chance that a team’s first-round selection officially visited with or privately worked out for the organization he landed in.

And that’s pretty substantial.

4. No team puts in more face time than the Patriots. Bill Belichick’s team has had more private workouts than any club in the NFL over the past two seasons. (Which is as long as we’ve been keeping track.)

5. The Broncos smokescreened the hell out of quarterbacks. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but here’s a look at QBs Denver showed “interest” in: Colin Kaepernick (both private workout and facility visit), Cam Newton (facility visit), Blaine Gabbert (visit), Jake Locker (private workout), and Christian Ponder (workout). The Broncos didn’t draft a single signal caller.

So we’ll know to be on our toes when trying to read into John Elway’s future visits and workouts lists.

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05/05: Rex Ryan, Rick Smith

Jets head coach Rex Ryan joins Mike Florio to talk about his new book, the growing maturity of Mark Sanchez, the budding rivalry with the Giants, and much more. Texans GM Rick Smith joins the program to discuss Houston’s draft, the defensive transformation led by Wade Phillips, and franchise QB Matt Schaub.

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Newsome doesn’t rule out Jared Gaither returning to Ravens

Jared Gaither AP

Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome conducted a conference call with season-ticket holders on Wednesday night.  Among other things, Newsome said that tackle Jared Gaither could be back in 2011.

“If we operate under the 2010 rules,” Newsome said, per Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun, “we would still have Jared Gaither. . . .  He’d get a chance to come back and start also.”

Gaither was moved last year from the left side to the right side.  He showed up for camp lighter than expected, and back trouble eventually resulted in his placement on injured reserve, without playing in a single game, preseason or regular season.

It’s believed that Gaither would compete with third-round draft pick Jah Reid at right tackle, with Michael Oher staying put on the left side.

Newsome also said that the team will be looking for a pass rusher, a backup quarterback, and a fullback once free agency begins.

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Carney creates informal kicker camp

New Orleans Saints v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

While teams around the league come together for practices, you have probably had one thought: What about the kickers?  (Okay, you probably didn’t have that thought.)

John Carney, who has bounced between player and coach of late, has them covered.  At a soccer field in Carlsbad, California, the 22-year-veteran oversees a loose practice for specialists around the league.

Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger writes that Jets punter Steve Weatherford, Jets kicker Nick Folk, Jets kicker Nick Novak,  Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, Cowboys punter Mat McBriar, and Packers punter Tim Masthay are among the folks that have come out this offseason.

The specialists share techniques and workout methods unique to their positions.    They find fields around the San Diego area, and then head to a first-class gym.  In Carney’s garage.  (He includes a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the wall.)

“He does a lot for specialists all over,” Folk said.  “It’s great to work out at team facilities, but when you get 80-plus players in there, you can’t personalize to each position. Not only kicking-wise, but workout-wise, it’s beneficial to be down there.”

Unfortunately, we have a feeling that player-run practices like Carney’s kicking extravaganza will be the only practices we’ll hear about it in a while.

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Rex Ryan, Rick Smith join PFT Live on Thursday


Jets coach Rex Ryan has been aggressively promoting his new book, Play Like You Mean It.  On Thursday, the campaign includes a visit to ProFootballTalk Live.

Starting at 12:00 p.m. ET on the nose, we’ll interview the man who has taken the Jets to the AFC title game in each of his first two seasons as a head coach.  And though, with the help of PFT Live producer and unabashed Jets fan Matt Casey, we’ve put together more questions than we could ever ask in the available time, we’re always looking for even better questions.

So send any questions you’d like to see asked, either for Ryan or for Texans G.M. Rick Smith, who isn’t selling a book (yet) but who will join us in the third segment of the show.

Watch at noon ET right here.

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Brad Nessler calls new NFL Network partner Mike Mayock “a star”

M. Mayock

It wasn’t long ago that Mike Mayock was well-regarded as a draft analyst by hard-core NFL fans but largely unknown beyond football obsessives. Now Mayock is becoming one of the most prominent people in the football business, and he sounded on a conference call today like he’s a little shocked that just being a guy who likes talking football has turned into a successful career.

“I love talking football — it doesn’t matter if I’m at the dinner table or down the street with my buddies,” Mayock said. “But to me there’s nothing like doing a live game. . . . I can’t believe they pay me to do live games. It’s mind boggling. My father was a coach for 45 years and he calls me Jesse James without a gun. He says, ‘You’re stealing money, son.’ And he’s right. I’m blessed to call games for a living.”

Mayock’s new on-air partner, Brad Nessler, said he views sitting next to Mayock in the booth as an honor.

“Mike and I have known each other a long time and worked a few games together back in the day,” Nessler said. “Everyone uses the term ‘rising star’ with Mike. I think he’s always been a star, but people are letting him do his thing now.”

For Mayock, doing his thing means, in his words, “A football telecast that answers all the questions.” Mayock hopes he’s helping to illuminate the game for fans who are already knowledgeable but want to know more.

“I start with a fundamental approach,” Mayock said. “I think football is the greatest game on earth, especially on television. And if you respect the game, I think the viewer will appreciate the telecast.”

NFL Network has confirmed that it first made the decision to make Mayock the color commentator for its package of prime time games, then went looking for the play-by-play man who could do the best job alongside Mayock. After considering several other broadcasters, they picked Nessler — perhaps in part because he realizes that Mayock is the star of the show.

But Mayock doesn’t talk like a star. He talks like a football fan who’s thrilled that he gets to be a fan for a living.

“If you told me 10 months ago that I’d be calling Notre Dame games, followed by an NFL playoff game on NBC, followed by NFL Network offering me this package,” Mayock said. “I would probably inquire as to your hallucinogenic choices.”

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Texans plan to use Mario Williams at outside linebacker

M. Williamshou Getty Images

The biggest addition to the Texans defense this offseason wasn’t first-round pick J.J. Watt, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The former Cowboys coach is changing just about everything about the Texans old approach in their transition to a 3-4 defense.  That includes creating the biggest outside linebacker in NFL history.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle wrote about Williams’ planned conversion in a chat Wednesday.  (A full story is coming Friday.)  At 6’6 and 290 pounds, Williams will look a little crazy standing up.  But McClain says he plans to drop some weight and the Texans won’t count on him to cover as the weak side outside linebacker.

“He’ll be up in running situations and down in passing situations. Sometimes they might change him around,” McClain writes.

Phillips plans to use Williams like he did DeMarcus Ware and “loves” Williams at OLB.  It appears the team selected J.J. Watt in part to free up Williams from playing defensive end.

The Texans certainly have an intriguing linebacker corps now: Williams, Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, Brooks Reed, and Connor Barwin.

Phillips has forgotten more about defense than we’ll ever know, so we’ll wait to see this experiment with Williams in action before making any judgement.   If nothing else, it should be fun to watch.

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Checking in with PFT Planet: Asomugha’s future

We’ve got a big show Thursday on PFT Live, with Rex Ryan and Texans G.M. Rick Smith joining the program.

Before we hear from them, however, we wanted to hear from you.

Florio took questions from PFT Planet on Wednesday”s show.   We’ve got answers to questions on Nnamdi Asomugha’s future, the relative lack of interest in this NFL Draft,  and an update on labor negotiations.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
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DeMarco Murray could challenge for big role right away

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Connecticut v Oklahoma Getty Images

Dallas’ pick of Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray in the third round took a lot of people by surprise.

It was earlier than some draftniks thought he should go. More importantly, Dallas appeared to have bigger needs.   Now that Murray is in the fold, however, it’s clear the Cowboys think very highly of him.

So does Jacques-Jean Taylor of the Dallas Morning News, who thinks Murray could wind up starting for Dallas.  Right away.

“DeMarco Murray will challenge Felix Jones for the starting running back position, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t expect to win the job. Jones has been a disappointment, and the Cowboys have provided a catalyst for him to play his best football,” Taylor writes.

Marion Barber should get the boot once the lockout ends.  We’ve always wanted to see what Tashard Choice could do in a bigger role, but that probably won’t happen now unless Jones or Murray get hurt.  (A decent bet.)

Coach Jason Garrett has said this offseason that Jones proved he could handle a bigger role at the end of last season and he put up good numbers.

We still expect Felix Jones to be the team’s starter, but it sounds like he may not have a long leash on the job.  It sounds like a new running back has caught Jerry Jones’ eye.

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Ray Edwards: “There’s no way I will play for less than what my backup got”

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Fans should be ruling for the courts to force the NFL to re-open for business.  Players are rooting for it too.

There are plenty of players, however, that would suffer if the NFL is forced to go back to work and 2010 league rules are put in place.  Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards will be one of those players, no matter what happens with his boxing career.

The Vikings placed a one-year, $2.8 million tender on Edwards before the lockout started.  If the league works out a new CBA, Edwards should be an unrestricted free agent, free to enter the market.  If the 2010 rules are back, he could be stuck in Minnesota.

“They put a first-round tender on me, but even if that holds up, there’s no way I will play for less than what my backup got in his new contract.  There’s no way I would play here,” Edwards told Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Edwards is referring to Brian Robison, who got a $6.5 million signing bonus this offseason.  Edwards claims he “couldn’t care less” about the lockout at the moment, but that’s hard to believe when it could affect his potential for a once-in-a-lifetime contract.

What gets lost in this legal battle between the NFLPA* and NFL is that no one can fully win in the courts.  The players can gain leverage, but they may have to deal with another year of decreased spending in the league.

We still need an agreement at the end of this mess or players like Edwards get a raw deal.

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Grand jury will hear evidence in Talib case on May 18

St. Louis Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The next court date for Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib will take place on May 18, according to Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times.

That’s when a grand jury in Dallas will hear evidence in the case involving Talib and his mother Okolo Talib.  Aqib Talib was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.   His mother faces the same charge, in addition to felony possession of a firearm.

Aqib Talib is accused by police of grabbing a gun from his mother and shooting it at Shannon Billings, the boyfriend of his sister.  His charge is punishable by 2-20 years in prison if found guilty.

While there has been speculation the Bucs will dump Talib at the end of the legal process, coach Raheem Morris has said no decision has been made.

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Hines Ward cuffed at gunpoint in stolen-car misunderstanding

Hines ward, Kym Johnson AP

Steelers receiver Hines Ward, who has spent the offseason as one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars, had to do a different type of tapdancing early Thursday.

According to TMZ, Ward, who was the passenger in a car driven by an unnamed female, was handcuffed at gunpoint after police checked the license plates and realized the vehicle had been reported as stolen.

As it turns out, the driver had previously reported the car as stolen after an incident with a valet.  She didn’t let police know she’d gotten the vehicle back.

Per the report, the police verified the story and allowed them to leave from the scene of the stop.

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NFL Network teams Mike Mayock with Brad Nessler

Mike Mayock Pic Getty Images

NFL Network has a new announcing team for its prime time regular-season games, with Brad Nessler handling the play-by-play and Mike Mayock as the color commentator.

Although NFL Network hasn’t formally announced the pairing, Richard Deitsch of reports that the decision has been made.

The promotion of Mayock was expected and, frankly, overdue: He’s been the best analyst on NFL Network for years, and his presence in the booth represents a major improvement over last year’s commentators, Joe Theismann and Matt Millen.

The decision to put Nessler, who also calls college football for ESPN, in the play-by-play chair is something of a surprise. He replaces Bob Papa, who had been with NFL Network the last two years. Prior to that NFL Network had Bryant Gumbel in the play-by-play role.

Gus Johnson had also been considered for the play-by-play role. After the decision to go to Mayock was made, Papa was told to re-audition for his old job, and apparently NFL Network thought Nessler was a better fit with Mayock.

Mayock and Nessler will debut on Thursday, November 10, when the Raiders play the Chargers in San Diego.

UPDATE: NFL Network has now announced the move.

“My favorite aspect of this industry is to do live games,” Mayock said in NFL Network’s statement. “You are able to get up close to the coaches and players and the environment is electric. To have the opportunity to call NFL games in primetime on NFL Network is like a dream come true.”

Added Nessler, “The NFL has always been a big part of my life and my career. To join NFL Network and the great team they’ve assembled is an honor. Primetime football on Thursday nights is an event. It’s an exciting new challenge and I can’t wait to be part of it all.”

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Sabol shares credit following more honors for Hard Knocks

Steve Sabol AP

NFL Films president Steve Sabol has already found his heaven on Earth.  He’s currently battling a brain tumor, but the company he and his father built continues to build its legacy.

This week, Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets earned three Sports Emmys, including their second consecutive Emmy in the Outstanding Edited Sports Series/Anthology category.  They also won for the camera work and post produced sound.

For only the second time since Sabol was diagnosed, he made a public statement after the honors.

“Writing, painting, music – those are solitary endeavors,” Sabol said. “But great television only happens through collaboration. That’s why everyone at NFL Films is proud to share these Emmys with our friends at HBO and our partners at NFL Network.”

NFL Films has won 105 total Sports Emmys in its run.

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Minnesota governor wants action on stadium bill

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton stands on Getty Images

The Minnesota Legislature apparently intends to take up the issue of a new stadium for the Vikings after working out a new budget for the state.  But with the budget process consuming plenty of time in the part-time legislative body’s schedule, there may not be enough time to get a stadium deal done.

As a result, Governor Mark Dayton thinks it’s time to get to work on a stadium deal.

Per the Associated Press, Dayton said on Wednesday that the stadium project is a a “separate standalone matter for the Legislature to consider.”  And he doesn’t want the Legislature to stand around and wait to act.

Get it completed, I’ll sign it,” Dayton said.  “Yes.  Get it done.  Get people to work.”

The legislative session ends on May 23.

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Ryan Mallett plans “payback” after Dolphins pass on him

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Ohio State v Arkansas Getty Images

Some draft prognosticators thought Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett could go as high as the 15th overall pick to the Dolphins. Instead, he fell all the way to the 74th pick, with the Patriots. And now Mallett wants to make the Dolphins pay for passing on him.

Mallett’s father, Jim Mallett, told the Boston Herald his son was angry because the Dolphins told him they were interested in trading for him, but the Dolphins instead used the 62nd pick on running back Daniel Thomas.

“They took another guy,” Jim Mallett said. “Ryan said, ‘Payback.’ He remembers it all.”

Jim Mallett also says his son has never failed a drug test, contrary to rumors that circulated before the draft.

As for Ryan, his vow of payback is reminiscent of the way his new teammate, Tom Brady, responded to being passed over until the sixth round of the 2000 draft, by using it as motivation to prove all the teams that didn’t pick him wrong. The bad news for Mallett is that with Brady planning to play another decade, Mallett won’t get his chance at payback against the Dolphins any time soon.

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NFL still committed to Indy for Super Bowl, but when?

nfl_g_lucasoil_stadium_300 Getty Images

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s conference-call tour of season-ticket holders took him to Indianapolis on Wednesday night, and one of the inevitable questions he faced was whether the Super Bowl will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium despite the lockout.

“I do feel strongly that we made a commitment to the city of Indianapolis,” Goodell said regarding the possibility that the February 2012 Super Bowl could be canceled, according to Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.  “We look forward to being there.  We look forward to playing in Indianapolis and we’ll stand behind that commitment.”

In other words, if the 2012 Super Bowl ends up being canceled, Indy will get another one.

Our guess is and has been that Indy will get the 2015 Super Bowl if it appears that the 2012 Super Bowl won’t happen.  That’s why, we believe, the league postponed determination of the host city for the 2015 Super Bowl from May until October.  It’s believed that the finalists are Arizona and Tampa Bay.

If the work stoppage hasn’t ended by the time owners meet in October, Indianapolis suddenly will emerge as the favorite.

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Tiki Barber confident he’ll play, but “I’m not trying to be who I was”

Tiki Barber AP

Tiki Barber is continuing to work out and prepare for what he says will be a comeback season in 2011. But in a nod to his age, the 36-year-old Barber did admit that he won’t be the player he was when he last played, in 2006.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m not saying I’m coming in and being an every-down guy or going to rush for 1,800 yards again, but I know I can play this game and be a contributor,” Barber told the New York Post. “I’m not trying to be who I was.”

The Post suggests that either the Steelers or the Buccaneers would make the most sense for Barber, who says he’ll play for some team looking for a veteran who’s already familiar with the offense, and perhaps who already knows many of the players and coaches.

“I’ll be somewhere where I know the people, know the staff,” Barber said. “It will be a team that needs some veteran leadership or just needs a little push or needs somebody they can count on to fit a role.”

But no team should expect that role to be playing the way Barber did five years ago.

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Toronto eyeballs two teams for possible relocation

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Toronto has gotten a taste of the NFL over the past few years, hosting at least one Bills game annually.  And it has made the powers-that-be hungry for more.

Councillor Doug Ford, the brother of Toronto mayor Rob Ford (wait, I thought their last name was McKenzie), tells Brad Gagnon of that Canada’s mega-city intends to try to lure an NFL team after the league puts a team back in Los Angeles.

“They have to take care of the problem in Los Angeles first,” Ford said.  “Two teams are kind of in play here:  Jacksonville’s number one; New Orleans is the other.  So there’s two teams.  Once they take care of Los Angeles, we’re going to fly over to New York, set up a meeting with [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell and give him our pitch.”

As Gagnon points out, Goodell has said that Toronto would need a better venue than Rogers Centre.  “Their current stadium is a multi-purpose stadium, has a relatively small capacity by NFL standards,” Goodell said at his pre-Super Bowl press conference in February.  “And so I think there’s some issues that have to be addressed up there, but it’s a great market.”  But Doug McKenzie Ford has explained that a new waterfront stadium could be built.

Apart from the borderline ridiculous notion that the Saints would be in play to relocate (then again, things were tenuous at best for the franchise’s future in New Orleans before Katrina), the fact that the Bills aren’t on the short list is surprising.

“If we had our own team,” Ford said, “we’d treat it like it’s our own and build up a fan base.”

Of course, this implies that a full and complete move by the Bills, instead of a shared arrangement with Buffalo, would be welcomed.  It’s safe to say, however, that the folks in Toronto don’t want to be perceived as politicking to pilfer the Bills from Buffalo.  That said, the ultimate unspoken goal could be to pressure the Bills to protect their regionalized turf by moving to Toronto in order to keep another NFL team from moving in next door.

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