What Happens If Freeney (High Ankle Sprain) Can’t Play?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 13, 2012 – 5:04 pm

For the last 11 seasons, Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts has been one of the most productive defenders in the NFL. He has 102.5 career sacks and has registered double-digits sacks in 7 of his 10 seasons. That’ why it was surprising to see Freeney fail to register a single statistic in the Colts season-opener last week in Chicago.

Upon closer review, though, you’ll notice that Freeney only played 9 snaps against the Bears because an ankle injury took him out of action. Reports surfaced earlier this week that Freeney had the dreaded high ankle sprain, an injury that typically keeps players out for multiple weeks.

Freeney has missed two straight days of practice because of the injury, a sign that Freeney may indeed be out of this weekend’s game against the Vikings. Although Freeney is in the midst of a position change from DE to LB as new Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano transitions the defense away from a 4-3 look and into a new 3-4 scheme, the 11-year veteran will still be a productive player and a player for whom opposing teams will need to game plan.

Speaking with reporters earlier in the week, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged that Freeney’s absence would have a direct impact on how the Vikings go about attacking the Colts defense.

“I have a lot of respect for Dwight, just going back to my days in Indy as well,” Frazier explained. “And I can remember teams completely changing how they approached us because of Dwight, so it wouldn’t be any different (for the Vikings). He’s a major factor. He’s in his 11th season in the League, but he still is a guy you have to pay attention to and you better know where he is at all times. It would definitely make a different if he is not on the field.

At this point in time, all signs point to Freeney missing the game. But we won’t know for sure until 90 minutes prior to kickoff, which is when teams are required to designate their inactive players for the game. Losing Freeney would obviously be a blow to Indianapolis’ defense. But the cupboard is not bare behind Freeney.

Here’s a look at two players who would help fill the void if Freeney can’t go on Sunday…

Mario Addison
Beginning his second NFL season after going undrafted out of Troy in 2011, Addison will get a good look at the position if Freeney doesn’t play. He was on the field for 21 snaps following Freeney’s injury last Sunday, and while he didn’t record a statistic, you have to figure a jump in performance is due after playing most of last week and then practicing all of this week. Addison measures in at 6-3, 257 pounds and wears jersey #97.

Jerry Hughes
A 1st-round pick (#31 overall) of the Colts the draft after their last Super Bowl appearance (2010), Hughes entered the League out of TCU as a defensive end. He wasn’t a great fit as a DE in the Colts old defensive scheme, but he might be a great fit as an outside LB in the Colts new scheme. The only problem has been that he’s playing behind an All-Pro. If that All-Pro is injured, Hughes will get a shot to produce. Hughes, who measures in at 6-2, 254 pounds, played 56 defensive snaps after Freeney went down in Chicago last week, and he figures to get plenty more snaps this week at home against the Vikings. Hughes wears jersey #92

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Line Change: Vikings DL Rotation Proved Effective

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 13, 2012 – 12:23 pm

Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams is new to Minnesota. But it didn’t take him long to find a beloved state pastime to use as an analogy in explaining one of his defensive philosophies.

Williams explained during training camp that he’ll use a rotation at defensive line throughout the season, comparing his substitution patterns to that of a hockey lineup.

“I said before that this is Minnesota, we’re going to have a hockey lineup so we need eight guys to come in and play for us and play well,” Williams said. “We’ll have guys that are rotating and we expect whatever that rotation is for guys to play winning football.”

The philosophy was in play last week in the Vikings season-opening win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Vikings four starting defensive linemen – DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison and DTs Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams – took the bulk of the snaps, but Christian Ballard, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen and D’Aundre Reed were in the mix as well. Griffen logged 33 defensive snaps, Evans 18, Ballard 17 and Reed 4. The Vikings at one time actually had four defensive ends on the field at once, looking to apply pressure to QB Blaine Gabbert late in the game.

Were Vikings coaches pleased with the production of the defensive line?

“Oh yeah,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And the more I looked at the tape and saw the hits that we put on the quarterback, that was very, very encouraging because over time, generally, that makes a big difference. You’d like to get sacks but you definitely want to get some hits on the quarterback and we got a number of good hits on the quarterback.”

The main critique many had of the Vikings rotation plan was that the starters – namely Allen and Williams – would be off the field too frequently. But on Sunday it appears Vikings coaches found a good mix, as Allen was on the field for 75 snaps and Williams logged 64.

“I thought it was good for us and it’s something we have to continue to grow and develop and make sure the guys we do put in for our starters are really living up to the things that we expect,” Frazier explained. “But it was a good start for us, to be able to get that rotation going in a fashion we think will help us over the long haul.”

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Vikings Players, Athletic Training Staff Host “Play 60″ Clinic At St. Joseph’s

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 4:45 pm

The Vikings Athletic Training Staff, along with Devin Aromashodu, Larry Dean, Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Tyrone McKenzie and Jamarca Sanford, host a “Play 60” clinic at Catholic Charities-St. Joseph’s Home for Children on Tuesday.

Approximately 50 youth from St. Joseph’s Home for Children were led through a series of drills designed to teach the basics of football. Players delivered a positive message to the children about the importance of perseverance and teamwork, and they stressed the importance of being active every day.

NFL Play 60 is the NFL movement for an active generation and is aimed at getting children active for at least 60 minutes a day.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Vikings Athletic Training staff participated in support of the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. St. Joseph’s Home for Children is recognized by the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award Foundation as serving as a “Courage House” for the Minnesota Vikings. The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to heightening awareness of the plight of abused and neglected children. St. Joe’s provides shelter and intake services for Hennepin County children removed from their homes due to abuse or instability.

Since 1998 the Vikings have partnered with Catholic Charities St. Joseph’s Home for Children on numerous community events. The Catholic Charities program annually assists more than 2,000 children.

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Vikings List 8 On Initial Injury Report, All Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 2:56 pm

The Vikings listed 8 players on their initial Week 2 injury report, and all of them participated in practice on Wednesday.

Listed as full participants in practice are RB Adrian Peterson (knee) and CB Josh Robinson (hip). Those who were limited in practice were: CB Chris Cook (biceps), LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle), C John Sullivan (ankle), WR Jarius Wright (ankle) and TE Rhett Ellison (ankle).

The Colts listed 6 players on their report. LB Pat Angerer (foot), LB Dwight Freeney (ankle), and G Joe Reitz (knee) did not participate in practice. OT Winston Justice (head) was limited and WR Austin Collie (head) and WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) were full participants.

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Frazier Anticipates Improved Colts Offense On Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 1:45 pm

There’s a positive buzz around the Vikings right now. They pulled out a dramatic overtime victory thanks to the return of the best RB in the NFL and some clutch kicking from their rookie kicker, and now they’re focusing in on Week 2 and beginning a season 2-0 for the first time since 2009.

The Vikings Week 2 opponent (Indianapolis Colts) is coming off a 20-point loss at Soldier Field on opening day. The Colts defense allowed 41 points and 428 yards of offense, and the Colts offense mustered just one TD drive, allowed 3 sacks and netted just 63 rushing yards. That opening-day outing followed a preseason in which the Colts offense yielded 8 sacks and averaged just 2.8 yards per rush.

Yes, the Vikings have momentum and they’ll enter Week 2’s matchup as road favorites. But don’t for a second think Head Coach Leslie Frazier and the Vikings are going about their business as if another win this Sunday against the Colts is a foregone conclusion.

“You don’t want to misjudge what happened in the preseason or even in the first regular season game,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “Most teams in our League, and hopefully we’re one of them, improve that second week. And we anticipate their offense and their offensive line being much improved this second week after they go back and look at some tape and really begin to gel a little bit. We don’t want to be misled by anything that happened in that first game or what happened in the preseason. Their offensive line will continue to improve as the season goes on.”

While Frazier anticipates the Colts improving as the season progresses, he’ll surely want to see his own team improve, too. The Vikings converted just 20% of their 3rd downs on offense and allowed Jacksonville to convert 50% of their 3rd-downs, they yielded a 96.1 passer rating to QB Blaine Gabbert and they nearly lost the game after a late TD pass.

It sounds as if the Vikings will be able to make those improvements, though, because Frazier made it clear his team is more concerned with fixing their own issues than hoping the Colts can’t fix theirs.

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Rookie Report – Week 1 vs. Jacksonville

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 9:15 am

The calendar has flipped from Week 1 to Week 2 in the NFL. But before we get too far into discussing the Vikings Week 2 match-up with the Indianapolis Colts, let’s take a quick look back at how several Vikings rookies performed in the season-opening win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A few of the rookies played key roles in the victory, which is part of the reason we’ll have a rookie report this week. But I’m guessing a rookie report will be warranted most weeks given the important role several Vikings draft picks are going to have on this team, namely LT Matt Kalil, S Harrison Smith and K Blair Walsh.

Here’s the Week 1 Rookie Report…

Matt Kalil
Kalil logged 69 total snaps, with 59 coming on offense as the starting LT and 10 coming on special teams. He was solid in the run game and pass protection, but his most notable – or at least most visible – contribution was a blocked PAT in the 1st quarter. In a game that went to overtime, a blocked extra point is obviously huge.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he held his own in the run game, did a very good job in pass protection as well, just a lot of things that we can build on. There were a few errors that we want to correct. There are some things that he knows he has to get better at but that’s going to be a part of his maturing as an offensive tackle as well. But a lot of good things on tape by him.”

Harrison Smith
Smith led all Vikings in total plays with 91 (79 on defense, 12 on special teams), and he was one of the Vikings two starting safeties (Mistral Raymond). Perhaps his best play came in overtime, when he broke up a pass from Blaine Gabbert intended for WR Laurent Robinson on a 3rd and 2 from the Jacksonville 31. The game was over on the next play, also an incompletion. On special teams, Smith PBU in overtime or 4th.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he did a good job. He had maybe one missed tackle but his angles, he had a nice deflection there late in the game, moved around well, was in the right position, made some good plays. When I look at the tape, he brought a smile to my face a few different times because he was where he needed to be and that’s important when you’re a guy who plays in the secondary.”

Josh Robinson
Robinson logged 53 snaps, with 38 coming on defense primarily as the 3rd CB and 15 coming on special teams. He had a solo tackle on special teams and registered 4 more tackles on defense. Starter Chris Cook left the game for a brief period, bumping Robinson up to one of the top 2 CB spots. A.J. Jefferson, whom the Vikings acquired via trade a couple weeks ago, did not play. It will be interesting to see Jefferson’s progress with the team and also the impact his playing time has on Robinson’s. Robinson has shown plenty of signs that he can be an NFL CB, so I expect the Vikings to continue to put him on the field in order to develop his skills.

Rhett Ellison
Ellison played primarily on special teams, with 22 of his 25 total snaps coming with that group. He logged 1 solo tackle.

Blair Walsh
Walsh logged 12 plays and was spectacular from start to finish. He was 4 of 4 on FG tries, including a game-tying 55-yard FG as time expired and the game-winner in overtime from 38 yards. Walsh was good on kickoffs as well, tallying 3 touchbacks and helping hold the Jaguars average starting field position at the 19.5-yardline. Walsh was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance and he’s been named a finalist for Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week honors as well.

Frazier’s take: “Blair, there is no need to say it but it was outstanding to come away and kick the way he did at the end of regulation and then to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime. As a rookie, it doesn’t get much more pressure than that and to come through for us, it really improved the confidence of our players along with his confidence as time goes on.”

Robert Blanton
Blanton logged 7 total snaps, all of which came on special teams. I expect him to continue in that role for the short-term, but his long-term role will likely be much more significant. He’s still catching up from missing a big chunk of training camp and the preseason with an injury.

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Walsh Named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on September 12, 2012 – 8:26 am

Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh was rewarded for his stellar performance last Sunday by being named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Walsh was four of four on his field goal attempts Sunday, including the game-tying kick from 55 yards out as time expired to send the game to overtime; that field goal was the second longest in team history.  He then connected with what turned out to be the game-winning 38-yard field goal on the Vikings first drive in overtime.

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10 Vikings-Colts Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 6:46 am

Wednesday is the day NFL teams flip their calendars from last week to the upcoming week, as review of the recent game has concluded and on-field preparations for the next opponent begins. Vikings players will return to Winter Park on Wednesday to begin digesting the game plan Vikings coaches have devised over the past two days and the team will hold its first practice of the week in the afternoon.

Also, both Head Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder will hold press conferences on Wednesday. We’ll stream those press conferences live on, so be sure to tune in at about 11:25 to watch.

While you’re waiting for all of that to transpire, take a look at 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…

1. Young QBs Ponder, Luck Square Off
One of the storylines last week was a clash of QBs from the Class of 2011, as #10 pick Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars visited #12 pick Christian Ponder and the Vikings. This week, the two starting QBs were not selected in the same draft, but they are both 1st-round picks. In the second start of his second season, Ponder will lead the Vikings to Indianapolis, a team once led by #1 overall pick Peyton Manning and now led by 2012 #1 overall pick Andrew Luck. In his NFL debut last week in Chicago, Luck was 23 of 45 for 309 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. Soldier Field is a tough place to play for any QB, especially a rookie QB making his first start, so expect a bit of a bounce back for Luck this week at home. But the Vikings have to make sure the bounce back isn’t significant enough to yield a victory. Interestingly, the Vikings boast a 3-0 record since 2009 vs. rookie QBs selected with the #1 overall pick – 2-0 against Matthew Stafford in 2009 and they beat Cam Newton a year ago.

2. Adrian Peterson And The Vikings Running Game
Adrian Peterson’s return was a big storyline last week leading up to the season-opener, and it turned out to be a major factor in the game as well. Peterson started the game and scored 2 TDs along the way to helping lead the Vikings to victory. Entering the game, most expected he would play. But most also expected he’d see limited action. As it turned out, though, Peterson carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and was the team’s workhorse in the 4th quarter and overtime. As a team, the Vikings rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries (4.2 yards per carry), and they’ll need similar success on the ground with Peterson and Toby Gerhart again this week if they’re to log a victory over the Colts on the road in Week 2.

3. Vikings Performance On 3rd Down
The Vikings did win last week, so the feeling was good in the locker room after the game and there is positive momentum heading into Week 2. But there are also facets of their performance that the Vikings will look to improve in Week 2. Perhaps the most important is 3rd-down performance – for both the offense and defense. Offensively, the Vikings had just 10 3rd-down opportunities, which is a good sign. A low number of 3rd-down opportunities means you’re having success on 1st and 2nd down. But of those 10 3rd downs, the Vikings converted just 2 of them into 1st downs. That number must increase, especially playing on the road. Defensively, the Vikings yielded a 50% conversion rate to the Jaguars on 3rd down (9 of 18). The Vikings defense did a great job of stepping up at a few important moments against the Jaguars, and that was good to see. But the Vikings defense must do a better job of getting off the field on 3rd down to turn the ball over to Ponder, Peterson and the Vikings offense.

4. Figuring Out The Colts 3-4 Defense
Under long-time head coach Tony Dungy and then under Dungy successor Jim Caldwell, the Colts ran a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme. But new head coach Chuck Pagano has brought with him from Baltimore a 3-4 front, which the Vikings saw a few times in the preseason and will see a few times in the regular season. The San Diego Chargers did a few things with their 3-4 defense against Ponder and the Vikings in the preseason that caused problems, so the Vikings offense will need to diagnose those issues from the preseason and apply them to their preparations for this week’s game against the Colts. It will be important for Ponder and C John Sullivan to be sharp in their communication so they can identify which players will bring pressure each play.

5. Containing Dwight Freeney And Robert Mathis
For many seasons, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis formed a lethal and productive pass-rushing duo at DE for the Colts. But in the new 3-4 scheme under Pagano, Freeney and Mathis are standup outside LBs. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff will have to figure out how they want to attack the Colts defense with Freeney and Mathis in different positions. Yes, Freeney and Mathis will still rush the passer nearly every down, but they’re coming from different spots on the field and their pre-snap positioning and movement will be different. Freeney played in just 9 snaps a week ago before injury and Mathis actually had 2.0 sacks.

6. Keep An Eye On WR Reggie Wayne
While the Vikings offensive staff will have to neutralize Freeney and Mathis, the defensive staff will have to keep an eye on Reggie Wayne. Yes, Wayne is 33 and is in his 12th season. But if last week is any indication, the 5-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro can still play and will still be relied upon by his offense. Luck targeted Wayne 18 times in the season-opener, and Wayne hauled in 9 receptions for 135 yards. Look for Chris Cook to be matched up with Wayne frequently.

7. Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams Goes Against His Former Team
In trying to defend Wayne, the Vikings will have one advantage: the presence of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. From 2002-11, Williams tutored the Colts DBs as a part of Tony Dungy’s and Jim Caldwell’s staffs. He worked with Frazier on the Colts staff for two seasons as well. While the offensive system is much different now than when Williams was around, there’s no doubt that Williams has detailed knowledge of the way Wayne approaches the game and the things he does well.

8. Turn Percy Loose
Peterson returned from injury to score 2 TDs and become the Vikings all-time leading rusher, Ponder turned things around in the 2nd half to become one of the offensive heroes, and Blair Walsh nailed a 55-yarder to send the game to overtime and then nailed a 38-yarder to ultimately provide the winning margin. Much of the post-game reaction skewed the way of those individuals. But there’s no question that Percy Harvin was a pivotal part of the Vikings victory last Sunday, even though he didn’t get into the end zone or the post-game headlines. Harvin produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. He had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns. If the Vikings defense is to operate well and produce on the road, Harvin must surely be a big part of the equation.

9. Jared Allen vs. Anthony Castonzo
It didn’t take long for Jared Allen to get his first sack of the 2012 season. Unfortunately it was negated because of a penalty. The Jaguars did everything they could to neutralize Allen from that point forward. The Jaguars kept him off the stat sheet, but Vikings defensive coaches and players were saying after the game that Allen had a profound impact on the outcome. Even still, Allen wants to be in the stat sheet – he wants sacks. The man responsible for keeping Allen away from Luck on Sunday will be Anthony Castonzo, a 1st-round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft. The Allen vs. Castonzo matchup is one of this game’s most important.

10. Playing The Colts At Lucas Oil Stadium In Their Home Opener
There’s no denying it – there is extra juice in the building on the home opener. The Vikings felt that and benefited from that last week at Mall of America Field. This week, the Vikings will be on the other end of it at Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Colts play their first home regular season game against the Vikings on Sunday. Nothing neutralizes a home-field advantage more than a sound running game and creating turnovers. Those could be listed as the keys to victory each week regardless of where the game is being played, but those are tasks that, if accomplished by the Vikings, could take the sting out of the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd. Interestingly, the Vikings have never played a regular season game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and they’re 0-10 against the Colts all-time on the road. Sunday seems like a good time to notch that first win at Lucas Oil and the first road win against the Colts.

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“Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron” Is A Must-Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 11, 2012 – 7:29 am

New to Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN) programming this year is a documentary-style show called Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron. The show is off to a great start and will keep rolling throughout the season, so if you haven’t seen it yet, now is the time to catch up.

The show focuses on the rare inside access that a team network can provide, giving fans a true inside look at their favorite team and favorite players. Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron uses voice narration as well as the topic interview subjects to tell each story, rather than a traditional show “host.” The show followed rookie Matt Kalil’s arrival to the Vikings and has also chronicled Adrian Peterson’s rehab and return from injury.

Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron is co-produced by VEN and Elite Edge Productions, and airs Saturdays on KARE 11 and Sundays on FSN. Click here to see a schedule of when exactly each episode will air.

Below we’ve included a 5-part series that chronicles the journey Vikings draft picks Audie Cole and Trevor Guyton took as they tried to make the Vikings roster. From spare time off the field, to hard work on the field, to celebrating after a big-time performance, this 5-part series gives you an all-access look at what life is like for rookies in the NFL.

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Ponder Sharp On 1st, 2nd Down In Week 1

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 11, 2012 – 6:22 am

Vikings QB Christian Ponder is by all accounts a reasonable guy. He doesn’t point fingers at coaches or teammates, he is cordial to the media and he is friendly to the fans. But this past offseason, Ponder set a goal for himself that many thought was unreasonable – completing 75% of his passes on 1st and 2nd down this season.

“We want 75 percent completions on first and second downs,” Ponder said. “That’s the number we’re shooting for. Obviously, we were in a lot of third-and-long situations a year ago, and we want to get out of that.”

Being efficient and 1st and 2nd down to avoid 3rd-and-long situations is certainly reasonable. The unreasonable part, for many, comes at the suggestion of a 75% completion rate on 1st and 2nd down. Consider, Drew Brees set an NFL record for overall completion percentage at 71.2% last year, and he was 73.1% on 1st down and 70.4% on 2nd down. So if the guy who set an NFL record for overall completion percent wasn’t able to attain the goal, is it realistic for Ponder to do it in his first full year as a starter? Some may say no, but what’s the point of setting a goal if that goal isn’t ambitious?

It’s only one week, so it’s wise to temper the enthusiasm somewhat. But Ponder attained his goal in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. On 1st and 2nd down, Ponder was 17 of 20 (85%) for 218 yards. The numbers break down to 6 of 8 for 63 yards in the 1st half and 11 of 12 for 155 yards in the 2nd half. Ponder was sacked twice (both in the 2nd half), fumbled once, and hit 6 different receivers on his 1st and 2nd down passes (Aromashodu, Asiata, Harvin, Jenkins, Peterson, Rudolph). The Vikings average yards-to-go on 3rd down was 6.4.

The Vikings were not able to convert efficiently on 3rd downs against the Jaguars – they were just 2 of 10 – but the good news is that it wasn’t because of inefficiency in the passing game on 1st and 2nd down. The next step in this process is to continue the success on 1st and 2nd down passing, and to follow that up with better execution on 3rd downs.

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