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Jerry Jones: Garrett doesn’t necessarily have to make the playoffs

Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett AP

Cowboys owner and General Manager Jerry Jones says coach Jason Garrett doesn’t necessarily need to make the playoffs in 2014 to keep his job.

I don’t think so,” Jones told the Dallas Morning News. “I don’t look at it that way at all.”

Jones says Garrett is growing as a coach, and that the two of them work well together. That works in Garrett’s favor.

“We’ve got a lot of experience together,” Jones said. “It’s no secret that we probably are shoulder to shoulder on the success we’d like for this team to have with him as head coach and what it would do for our fans’ future, our future. He’s more capable today than he was when he took over as head coach. If that arrow is going up, it just makes sense to have our future with Jason.”

But it would be hard to argue that the arrow is going up if Garrett doesn’t make the playoffs. Jones isn’t saying so, but it’s awfully hard to believe that he won’t fire Garrett if the Cowboys miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

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Christian Ponder: I’m not asking for a trade

Christian Ponder AP

Last week, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said that he was open to a trade now that he’s ensconced in the No. 3 spot on the depth chart in Minnesota.

Vikings coaches have since said that they feel there’s value to having Ponder on the team, something the team’s fans don’t seem to agree with given the boos that Ponder’s heard in the preseason. Ponder said Wednesday that he’s heard the boos and understands where they come from, but the frosty reaction isn’t turning his openness toward a trade into a burning desire to move elsewhere.

“I’m not asking for a trade,” Ponder said, via the Pioneer Press. “I’m learning so much right now. I do feel like it’s beneficial for me to be right here right now. As a competitor, though, you want to be the guy that’s out there playing. But I do feel like in the situation I’m in right now, I am getting better though I’m not playing.”

The idea of Ponder asking for a trade after the way he’s played thus far in his NFL career may elicit some chuckles, but so do the backup quarterback pictures for some teams around the league. The 49ers come to mind as a team that may want to consider other options after watching Blaine Gabbert live down to his reputation and there aren’t many with the experience that Ponder has picked up over the last three years.

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Knowshon Moreno says he’s ready to go

Knowshon Moreno AP

There hasn’t been a lot of good news related to running back Knowshon Moreno since he signed with the Dolphins this offseason.

He was overweight during spring work, which left him down the depth chart while Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and others got more of the work. Then he needed to have his knee scoped in June, keeping him off the field early in training camp and leaving him inactive for the first two preseason games.

The clouds have started clearing for Moreno, however. He’s been practicing for a couple of weeks and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that he looked the best he’s looked all summer during Wednesday’s practice. For his part, Moreno said that he feels good and that he feels ready to play against the Cowboys this weekend.

The team will determine his status after watching him work on Thursday, but this would be the week to get Moreno some work if they want him to get up to speed against a starting defense. If that goes well, the Dolphins may reshuffle the depth chart at running back before the regular season because they’ve run for just 104 yards in the first two weeks.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Jairus Byrd AP

Bills CB Ron Brooks is fighting for his job, and getting a chance.

With a failed experiment at C, Dolphins RG Shelley Smith is back where he belongs.

Patriots CB Brandon Browner has “enjoyed every second” of his time in New England.

Jets QB Geno Smith is ready to run.

The Ravens are focusing on getting better in the red zone.

It appears the Bengals got a solid bargain on the Vontaze Burfict deal.

Browns DE Desmond Bryant could miss the regular season opener after wrist surgery.

Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert’s dedication was rewarded.

Texans LB Brian Cushing feels good, wants to play on Saturday.

The notion of a No. 1 WR target isn’t a simple question for the Colts.

Jaguars OT Cameron Bradfield is ready to fill another hole in the offensive line.

For just another guy, the fade passes to Titans WR Justin Hunter appear hard to stop.

Injured Broncos LB Danny Trevathan is on crutches, but pleased with what he saw against the Texans.

Chiefs rookie RB De’Anthony Thomas joins a crowded injury list with a hamstring problem.

Raiders FB Marcel Reece’s foot is improving and he hopes to play this weekend.

Chargers NT Sean Lissemore avoided a serious injury.

Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray has confidence in his backups — this year.

Giants QB Eli Manning is more vocal in practice.

Trading for RB Kenjon Barner means 10 percent of the Eagles’ roster is made of former Oregon players.

Washington brought in some new competition for the punting job.

Bears QB Jordan Palmer will get the second-string snaps this week.

Lions DE Ziggy Ansah might play this week as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

The Packers have taken a scientific approach to their training table.

Vikings LB Chad Greenway was slowed by another wrist problem in practice.

Falcons RB Steven Jackson could return to practice soon.

The Panthers aren’t putting CB Josh Norman in the doghouse again — yet.

Saints S Jairus Byrd celebrated his first full practice with an interception.

The Buccaneers are hoping the heat is a home field advantage.

Cardinals DE Frostee Rucker is expected to take on a bigger role in the defense now.

The Rams brought Ferguson-area teams to practice this week as well.

The 49ers say their grass will be ready for Sunday’s game.

Seahawks DE Cliff Avril could be next in line for a contract.

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Ryan Grigson: Trent Richardson needs to answer the bell

Trent Richardson, Robert Ayers AP

Colts running back Trent Richardson ran for eight yards on his first carry of the preseason, the kind of run that could be seen as a fresh start for a player who struggled to gain any positive yardage after joining the team during the 2013 season.

Richardson has added just 26 yards on his next 13 carries, however, and his 2.4 yards per carry is actually down from last year’s anemic totals. Neither coach Chuck Pagano nor General Manager Ryan Grigson is ready to pull the cord on Richardson as a result, but Grigson also made it clear that they need to get more from the third overall pick of the 2013 draft.

“Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability,” Grigson said, via ESPN.com. “We’re all accountable here. I will say this, there are a lot of backs last year that wouldn’t have got [2.9 yards per carry] considering the amount of people he had in that box and the amount of bodies that were hitting him before he even seemed to get the ball sometimes. He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53.”

Richardson’s two best runs of the preseason have come when the team is lined up in the shotgun and Pagano talked about his belief that the Colts’ ability to throw the ball “is going to open things up in the run game.” There’s also the hope that wide receiver Reggie Wayne’s return to full action and finding the right players on the interior of the offensive line will further open things up for Richardson, but it is still going to be on the back to take advantage of advantageous situations.

Vick Ballard’s injury limits the Colts’ options if that doesn’t happen, but if accountability is something Grigson is stressing then they’ll have to turn to Ahmad Bradshaw or someone else in the event Richardson turns in more of the same this season.

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Giants rookie, Rex Ryan trade barbs about rivalry game

x350-15 AP

If you’re looking for reasons to be interested in a generally uninteresting preseason game, the Giants and Jets are doing their best to manufacture a little interest.

Giants rookie Andre Williams turned the heat on by declaring to the New York Post: “I think the Giants are the real New York team.”

Fortunately, there was time to get a response from Jets coach Rex Ryan to the young running back from Boston College.

Yeah, last time I saw him he was getting smoked by Clemson,” Ryan said.

(Ryan’s son Seth plays at Clemson, and Williams was held to 70 yards in a loss to the Tigers last year, his third-lowest rushing game of the year.)

“I have a funny feeling,” Ryan continued, via NJ.com “he’s going to get some [helmets] put on him.”

As rivalries go, this one isn’t much, as the Giants can point to a cabinet full of trophies, while the Jets haven’t won anything since Woodstock.

 

“I think there is something to it,” Ryan said of the preseason series. “You don’t get to play each other very often. This game’s always a physical game.”

And now it has a subplot, which puts it ahead of most preseason games, and gives us a parenthetical reason to be interested in it.

 

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Da’Quan Bowers is no lock to make the Bucs’ roster

Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Da’Quan Bowers was viewed as one of the most talented players in the 2011 NFL draft, but he dropped all the way to the middle of the second round because of concerns about whether he could stay healthy. Three years later, those same concerns could cost him a spot on the Buccaneers’ roster.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said that Bowers, who is currently sitting out practice because of a groin strain, is risking having other players take his roster spot.

“I think every day you don’t practice you’re hurting your chances [of making the team],” Smith said, via the Tampa Times. “We’ve seen enough to like Da’Quan a lot. But all the reps that he’s not getting, someone else is getting them. The best way to beat your competition sometimes is just to stay on the field. You can’t get Wally Pipped. Da’Quan is trying to get back. Again, I think he has a future in the league, whether it be as a defensive end outside or more of a third down rush guy inside.”

Bowers has missed nine games in his three NFL seasons and hasn’t been the kind of explosive pass rusher he was expected to be heading into the draft, with just 5.5 sacks in his career. Bowers still has some work to do to convince Smith he belongs on the Bucs, and Bowers can’t do that work if he’s stuck on the sidelines.

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Smith, Gordon, Irsay remain on deck for discipline

Smith AP

The NFL has developed a habit, wisely from a P.R. standpoint, of dropping bad news on Friday afternoons.  The move necessarily takes the steam out of a story, since by Monday the weekday radio and TV shows will be focused on the actual sporting events of the intervening weekend.

And while the Internet remains available for content and comment at any day and time, folks tend to spend more time reading and reacting during the normal workweek, when they’re on the company’s time.  By the time they’re on their own time, they’re making time for other stuff.

Coupled with the NFL’s habit of resolving disciplinary matters that could result in suspension before the start of the regular season, the next three Fridays likely will feature final decisions regarding 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, Browns receiver Josh Gordon, and Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Smith faces a multi-game suspension under the personal-conduct policy and/or the substance abuse policy.  Because the latter would entail a more complex and time-consuming appeals process, look for the league to impose discipline under the personal-conduct policy.  Smith, who met with Commissioner Roger Goodell two weeks ago in Baltimore, awaits an initial decision.  If/when a suspension is imposed under the conduct policy, Smith will have three days to file an appeal, which almost certainly would be resolved before the 49ers face the Cowboys in Week One.

For Gordon, the two-day appeal hearing under the substance-abuse policy ended 17 days ago.  Barring a negotiated resolution, hearing officer Harold Henderson will impose a ruling, presumably sooner than later.  Under the strict terms of the substance-abuse policy, the options are no suspension at all and a full year.

As to Irsay, the league presumably has been waiting for a potential plea deal on the pending charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence of prescription medication.  League insiders reportedly expect Irsay to receive a six-to-eight-game suspension.  The biggest unanswered question regarding Irsay remains whether he will be subjected to the same player standard of 10-times-per-month urinalysis and, eventually, a potential one-year banishment from the sport.

While plenty of unknowns linger as to all three men, past precedent suggests that each will have a decision rendered before Sunday, September 7 — and that the news will likely emerge on one of the next three Fridays.

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Texans-Broncos practice gets chippy

Peyton AP

The Texans and Broncos already may be getting sick of each other.

Wednesday’s joint practices between the two teams, occurring in advance of their Saturday night preseason game, included some heated moments.

Via Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Broncos right tackle Chris Clark exchanged words during one-on-one drills, after Watt dominated Clark and Clark took a swipe at Watt, knocking his helmet off.

Don’t get mad when you get beat,” Watt said to Clark.

Meanwhile, Texans safety D.J. Swearinger celebrated a little too loudly and proudly after intercepting Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning during 11-on-11 drills.

“I picked off Peyton today and I guess that got them a little chippy,” Swearinger said. “The offense did great, ran the ball down their throat, so, hey, I would get mad, too.  That’s all it is:  Players making plays and people getting mad.”

Coach Bill O’Brien downplayed the notion that lines were crossed.

“It was competition,” O’Brien told reporters.  “I don’t really even know what you’re talking about.  I really don’t.  It was just a lot of good competition and I felt like it helped our team a lot, and I’m not speaking for the Broncos, but I know that competition helps everybody, so it was good.”

The good news is that no actual fights occurred.  For the Broncos, the better news was that the offense heard and heeded quarterback Peyton Manning’s complaints from Tuesday regarding its performance at practice.

“I’m sure a lot of our guys noticed that he wasn’t happy on the field,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase told reporters. “I spoke my mind in the meetings. I’m not really going to do it out here for everybody to watch, but I said my piece. We made sure that we came out here and had a better day.”

Thursday won’t be as good, because the teams won’t practice in pads.  Which means that the chances of intense competition or chippy moments or fisticuffs or a full-blown brouhaha will be reduced.

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Jets place third-round pick Dexter McDougle on injured reserve

New York Jets Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

The New York Jets didn’t just lose one rookie to injured reserve on Wednesday.

After placing fourth-round receiver Shaq Evans on injured reserve, the team also placed third-round cornerback Dexter McDougle on injured reserve with a knee injury.

McDougle injured his knee in practice for the Jets last week. The rookie out of the University of Maryland tore his ACL and had surgery on Wednesday to repair his ligament. The move to injured reserve had been expected after McDougle suffered the injury on Aug. 10.

McDougle had one tackle and pass defense in his only preseason action against the Indianapolis Colts.

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Bell didn’t make trip to Philly with Steelers

Bell AP

Early Wednesday afternoon, Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount had a brush with the law that resulted in an allegation of marijuana possession for both of them, and a DUI charge for Bell.

Later in the day, the Steelers left for a preseason game in Philadelphia.  According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bell didn’t make the trip.

A second-round pick in 2013, Bell is expected to be the starting tailback this year.  Other players will get opportunities to carry the ball in Bell’s absence.

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Marrone thinks training-camp fights hurt game’s “integrity”

Marone AP

Plenty of teams have had fights during training camp.  The Bills had one on Wednesday, which included some fairly strong language from one of the participants.

According to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, veteran center Eric Wood and rookie defensive lineman Bryan Johnson had an altercation during a goal-line drill.  Tight end Scott Chandler intervened, taking Johnson to the ground.

I’ll f-cking kill you!” Wood yelled at Johnson.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes was amused.

“Twenty-one days in pads and counting!” Hughes yelled. “I love it! That’s what happens, baby!”

Coach Doug Marrone wasn’t.

“It’s not part of the game,” Marrone told reporters after practice. “Therefore, I don’t want to speak about it. It hurts the integrity of our game the more we talk about it. That’s how I feel about fighting.”

It may hurt the integrity of the game, but it’s definitely part of the fabric of the game.  Still, at some point a fight during practice becomes a case of workplace violence, which is prohibited by the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.  At some point between harmless pushing and shoving and Albert Haynesworth shredding the forehead of Andre Gurode resides a line that players shouldn’t cross.  It’s unclear precisely where that line resides.

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Report: 49ers move practice after footing problems on Levi’s Stadium turf

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly stopped Wednesday’s practice at Levi’s Stadium and moved the workout to the club’s practice field after the club had footing problems on the stadium’s playing surface.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Harbaugh gathered his team after Stevie Johnson fell running a pass route during the workout, which featured “huge divots” and “uneven turf.” Also, CSNBayArea.com observed that Niners G.M. Trent Baalke was “clearly agitated” about field conditions at the new stadium, which hosted its first-ever NFL game just three days ago. Rookie wideout Bruce Ellington also appeared to slip and fall on the field, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.

The Levi’s Stadium practice was open to fans, who were reportedly given free admission to the 49ers Museum after the team moved the workout.

The Niners’ next home preseason game is Sunday vs. San Diego. It’s the club’s third preseason contest, which customarily is the final dress rehearsal for the regular season opener. The question now is whether the field will be in better shape after Wednesday’s events.

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Five Questions: Oakland Raiders

Jacksonville Jaguars v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

You may recall we voted the Raiders 32nd in our preseason power rankings.

You may also recall the bottom five teams in our ratings were AFC clubs.

On paper, this doesn’t look like a banner year for the American Football Conference. Which, in turn, doesn’t hurt Oakland’s chances to perhaps exceed expectations, as we noted in our preseason Raiders analysis. And the Raiders have started decently enough in Dennis Allen’s first two seasons as head coach, posting 3-4 marks through seven games each time. However, they struggled down the stretch in both seasons, going 1-8 in Games 8 through 16 in 2012 and 2013.

With the club’s stadium lease expiring after the season, and with Allen and G.M. Reggie McKenzie under pressure to win after a couple of tough years, Raiders owner Mark Davis could have some major strategic decisions to make in the coming months. Here’s a look at five questions facing Oakland in 2014:

1. Who will start more regular season games at quarterback — Matt Schaub or Derek Carr?

Schaub has been the starter throughout the summer, and he’s on track to start in Week One. However, he lacks mobility, and the Raiders’ pass protection is very much an area to watch.

If the Raiders can’t protect Schaub, and if the 11th-year quarterback again struggles to take care of the ball, Oakland could turn to Carr, a second-round pick from Fresno State. Carr played well in extended action in the Raiders’ Aug. 15 preseason game vs. Detroit before suffering a concussion and injured ribs.

The Raiders’ bye is in Week Five, which could be a nice time to change quarterbacks if the Raiders have reason to do so. However, the Raiders get a fairly favorable draw in September, meaning the club may want to keep continuity. And why wouldn’t they if Schaub plays back to his best Houston form?

2. If the Raiders’ passing game sputters, can the ground game pick up the slack?

As a team, the Raiders rushed for 2,000 yards in 2013, 13th-best in the NFL. The club gained 4.6 yards per attempt, sixth-highest in the league, though TD runs of 93, 80 and 63 yards helped drive up the average.

There’s reason to believe Oakland can again have a productive rushing attack. The Raiders have three capable ball carriers (Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece). The offensive line is deeper than a season ago, too.

Still, the success of Oakland’s running game could very well be tied to its passing game. If the Raiders can’t give Schaub the time he needs to find open receivers, teams will be inclined to bring extra pressure and play tighter coverage. In this scenario, the Raiders could see defenses stacking the line and daring Oakland to do something about it. Then, it will be on the Raiders’ passing game to get defenses to back off, thus opening a little more room for that ground game.

3. Will the Raiders’ front seven have to carry the defense?

Let’s say this for the Raiders: they are going to be fun to watch when they force teams into obvious passing situations. Defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and defensive tackle Antonio Smith all know how to generate pressure, and young strong-side linebacker Khalil Mack has upside as a rusher, too.

The Raiders should also be solid against the run. Oakland surrendered just 3.9 yards per attempt a season, and its front seven is stronger this season.

However, the Raiders’ pass defense could be an area of concern. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford shredded Oakland’s secondary in the second preseason game, completing 9-of-10 passes for 88 yards and two scores. While the Raiders did well to add ex-Niners cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers in the offseason, they could very much use a real contribution from 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden, who remains on the PUP list because of a foot injury.

4. Can the Raiders get off to a good start?

A 2-2 record in September is a reasonable goal for Oakland. The Week Three matchup at New England will be very, very tough, but matchups at the Jets (Week One) and against the Texans (Week Two) and Dolphins (Week Four) are games in which Oakland should be competitive. In fact, if Oakland plays well, 3-1 isn’t an impossible dream in the least.

With the schedule turning much tougher later in the year, the Raiders must seize the moment in September.

5. Will the uncertainty about the Raiders’ future in Oakland continue throughout the season, or will there be clarity?

The Raiders’ stadium situation will be a storyline until it is resolved, whether the club is contending or struggling. The longer this drags on, the more it threatens to be the issue that defines the season, especially if the team falls out of contention. Davis’ willingness to meet with San Antonio this summer speaks to the franchise’s need for a viable long-term home.

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Pot precedent creates dilemma for Steelers

Bell Getty Images

The Steelers haven’t had a player face marijuana possession charges since 2008.  They now have two.  The way they handled that six-year-old incident could create an awkward situation for the 2014 Steelers.

The last time it happened, the Steelers deactivated receiver Santonio Holmes with pay for the next regular-season game.  Technically, any discipline imposed by the team infringes on the league’s exclusive jurisdiction under the substance-abuse policy.  And while a suspension of up to four games without pay is available for conduct detrimental to the team, the labor deal doesn’t contemplate a paid suspension.

So what will the Steelers do about running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, who were simultaneously charged with marijuana possession after being stopped by a police officer in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ross Township?  If the Steelers deactivate both for Week One against the Browns, the Steelers will have a harder time holding serve against a division rival.  If they do nothing, they’ll contradict the precedent created by the Holmes situation.

Don’t be shocked if the Steelers let this one play out, since neither Bell (who also was charged with DUI) nor Blount will face discipline from the NFL until the legal case is resolved in a way that reflects responsibility of some sort for the charges they face.  With a third person in the car who possibly will contend that the 20 grams of marijuana were hers and not theirs, it’s possible that Blount eventually will escape liability.  (With police contending that all three already have admitted to possession of marijuana, that one could be hard to pull off.)  While the DUI would remain an issue for Bell, a first offense usually results in a two-game fine; marijuana possession routinely triggers a one-game suspension.

Meanwhile, the police officers in and around Pittsburgh have a reputation for not being overly aggressive when it comes to Steelers players — unless those players were overly aggressive when dealing with the cops.  It’ll be interesting to see any video or audio generated by the traffic stop for evidence of cooperation or lack thereof by Bell and Blount.

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Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both arrested

bellblount AP

The Steelers’ top two running backs were arrested together today.

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh’s first- and second-string running backs, were in a car together and stopped by Ross Township Police this afternoon. Detective Brian Kohlhepp of the Ross Police Department tells PFT that a motorcycle officer smelled marijuana smoke coming from the car and pulled it over. Police found a baggy containing about 20 grams of marijuana in the car.

Both Bell and Blount are expected to be charged with possession of marijuana. Bell is also expected to be charged with driving under the influence. An unidentified female in the car is also expected to be charged with possession of marijuana. According to police, all three people in the car admitted that the marijuana belonged to all of them.

The Steelers took Bell in the second round of last year’s draft, and he won the starting job as a rookie. He carried 244 times for 860 yards and eight touchdowns last year.

Blount signed with the Steelers this offseason after spending last year in New England, where he had 772 yards and seven touchdowns on 153 carries.

Bell and Blount could both now be subject to league discipline, but likely not until the case is resolved.

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