Ponder Continues Progression During OTA #2

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 30, 2012 – 1:46 pm

Vikings QB Christian Ponder will enter just his second season in 2012 and right now he’s going through his first offseason program in the NFL due to the lockout that kept players away from facilities last year. That, combined with the natural disadvantages offenses face this early in the installation process, makes it no surprise that Ponder is finding adversity at times during OTAs.

It happens to every young NFL QB. Facing adversity is not the issue, though. It’s how the QB handles that adversity and how the QB bounces back from it that matters most. In that respect, the Vikings are in good shape with Ponder at the helm.

 “Today was a good starting point,” Ponder said after OTA #1. “A little rusty. I think guys were a little nervous. But a starting point.

“I’m a pretty big self-critic. I’ll probably go in and get upset at myself. There were some positives. No turnovers, which is a good thing and something I need to improve upon. Our main goal an offense right now is to get better on first and second down. And I’m going to see a lot of stuff on film that I’m going to get mad at myself, but I need to realize this is a starting point and we have nine more of these (OTAs).”

As of now, the Vikings have eight more OTAs because the team conducted OTA #2 on Wednesday afternoon. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday marked improvement for the entire squad from Tuesday’s work, and Ponder acknowledged that he saw improvement from the offense on Wednesday as well.

“I thought today was a lot better than yesterday,” Ponder said during his post-practice press conference. “Yesterday was an okay starting point for everybody. The defense kind of got the better of us yesterday, but today I think the offense came back and played a lot better. Overall I think I’ve progressed a lot the past two days. I think the whole offense has done a lot better.”

One moment that illustrated Ponder’s progression so far during OTAs came about midway through Wednesday’s practice during 7-on-7 work. On the first play of the period, Ponder lofted a pass deep down the left sideline for WR Devin Aromashodu, but CB Chris Cook made an exceptional play on the ball and grabbed the INT. On the next play, Ponder dropped back and rifled a pass into the center of the field to hit WR Stephen Burton between two defenders. The pass was perfectly timed and was the proper read. As Ponder jogged back to the huddle, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave barked “Way to bounce right back!”

Later in the 7-on-7 drill, Ponder found Burton once more on a perfectly-placed intermediate pass among three defenders to the right side and he finished the drill by finding a speedy Jerome Simpson running a deep crossing route.

There is still work to be done for Ponder and the Vikings offense, and they will be the first to acknowledge that. But given Ponder’s football acumen and attitude, that work will be done quickly and it will be done well.

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Tuesday’s Hot Topic: Tim Tebow’s Next Team

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 20, 2012 – 8:00 am

It was only 12 days ago that QB Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts parted ways, but it felt like 12 weeks with all the coverage of Manning’s search for a new team. On Monday, Manning made a decision, and that decision was to play for the Denver Broncos.

Once the Manning-to-the-Broncos news emerged, questions were immediately raised about what that meant for Tim Tebow’s NFL future. Tebow, of course, infused life into a listless franchise and took a team that began the season 1-4 all the way to the playoffs, even winning a Wild Card round game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Following the news of Manning’s desire to join the Broncos, a report quickly surfaced that Denver would try to trade Tebow rather than keeping him on the roster behind Manning. So that begs the question: Where will Tebow play in 2012?

Let’s start it off by looking at the Vikings. I’d be interested in the Vikings considering adding Tebow because, in my opinion, he is a winner and will make any team he joins better. Let me state my case…
— If he came to Minnesota, it wouldn’t be so the Vikings could hand him the keys to the offense. Christian Ponder is the future at QB in Minnesota.
— I believe Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff could find a way to utilize Tebow’s skill set.
— If nothing else, Tebow is a good runner who averages 5.4 yards per carry for his career. We know how much Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier values a sound running game, plus superstar RB Adrian Peterson is coming back from a serious knee injury.
— One potential hurdle is the presence of Joe Webb on the roster. We all know about Webb’s athletic ability and most of us share an interest in trying to find a way for Webb to contribute. Perhaps adding Tebow to the fold with Webb already in the mix would only complicate matters in Minnesota?
— I’m not sure if adding Tebow would yield positive results, but that’s for Vikings coaches and scouts to decide. They know much more about it than me. But for the time being, I’m interested in adding Tebow.
— My interest in adding Tebow says nothing about the players already on this roster and everything about the admiration and respect I have for Tebow and his football ability.

I’m certainly not anticipating the Vikings getting into the mix for Tebow. I’m only raising the possibility in this forum to generate discussion among the fan base. So aside from debating whether or not the Vikings should acquire Tebow, I’ll list a few other teams that I believe should consider acquiring Tebow. Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comment section below this entry…

Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins – These two franchises are at the front of the line in terms of teams that should acquire Tebow. He is from Florida, played college football at the University of Florida and he would immediately improve both teams. He’d also create a buzz in both towns that would help sell tickets and hope for fan bases who must certainly be pessimistic after many seasons of watching a losing product.

New England Patriots – If he doesn’t end up with the Vikings, my next choice would be New England. Just as is the case in Minnesota, Tebow would not be handed the keys to the offense in New England. He’d be used as a utility player, for lack of a better term, and I’d love to see how Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick could use Tebow’s talents.

New Orleans Saints – I don’t want to see this happen because the Saints play in the NFC with the Vikings. But Saints Head Coach Sean Payton is one of the most creative offensive minds in the NFL, and it’d be interesting to see what kind of production he could get from Tebow in that offense.

Philadelphia Eagles – I  there anyone better at getting production out of QBs than Andy Reid? Look what he’s done in resurrecting Michael Vick’s career. Look how he made Kevin Kolb look like a potential franchise QB. Just as I think Musgrave and Co. could find ways to use him here, I know Reid and his staff could utilize Tebow’s skills appropriately.

San Francisco 49ers – They lost out on the Manning sweepstakes, so why not take a stab at Tebow as a consolation prize? Alex Smith did a nice job last season, but he’s still an unrestricted free agent and we don’t know where he’ll end up. Even if Smith returns to San Francisco, there’s still room for Tebow. Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach, so I think he could figure out how to use a good football player.

Others who should consider Tebow: Buffalo, Cleveland, Green Bay and St. Louis

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Carlson Will Help Vikings Join A Trend

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 15, 2012 – 7:24 pm

The addition of John Carlson hasn’t been the kind of flashy move that inspires fans on the second day of free agency, but it is an acquisition that improves the Vikings offense and is the latest sign that the team is looking to add young, talented pieces to the offensive puzzle around QB Christian Ponder.

The Vikings entered the offseason with significant needs at both DB and WR as well as along the OL, and those needs remain. But with Jim Kleinsasser retiring and Visanthe Shiancoe on the free agent market, TE was also a need for the Vikings. It’s less of a need now, with Carlson improving the depth chart and serving as a nice bookend to fellow Notre Dame alum Kyle Rudolph.

Speaking of the depth chart, the Vikings still have some work to do at TE. Rudolph is not on the team because of his blocking ability, and Carlson will not make anyone forget about Kleinsasser’s game-changing run-blocking skills. The Vikings will likely search for a burly, hard-nosed TE with a late-round draft choice in April or in undrafted free agency.

As for Carlson and Rudolph, you can bet the Vikings will put both of them to good use in 2012 and beyond. Dual-TE sets are trending upward in the NFL, with New England being the trend-setter after TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez gave opposing defenses headaches all season. While Carlson and Rudolph won’t make that duo blush quite yet, it’s clear Rudolph has the ability to be a top-flight NFL TE and Carlson is already an established pass-catcher at this level after setting Seattle single-season franchise records for receiving yards and receiving TDs by a TE.

On top of having the personnel, the Vikings also have the philosophy to join the dual-TE trend. In his first season as the Vikings offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave was not averse to using multiple-TE formations, as the Vikings ranked tied for 8th in 2-TE sets and 7th in 3-TE sets. I’d expect those numbers to remain the same in 2012 at minimum, but most likely increase. Also keep in mind that quality, reliable pass-catching TEs are a nice security blanket for young, inexperienced QBs.

All-in-all, the addition of Carlson won’t send the Vikings to the Super Bowl next season. No free-agent signing does that. But it does address a team need and it fits the theme of getting younger and putting quality pieces around the young QB.

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With Gerhart Stepping In, Vikings Offense Won’t Change

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 30, 2011 – 7:16 am

Following the season-ending knee injury to Adrian Peterson last week in Washington, there will be a change this week at RB for the Vikings. That’s the bad news. The good news, though, is that the change will be restricted to the identity of the starting RB rather than a change in offensive style or philosophy.

The Vikings offense is one built around a strong running game and around the NFL’s best RB. And when you build a team with that makeup, it’s important to have a backup RB who can be trusted with shouldering the load. By selecting Toby Gerhart in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Vikings secured insurance.

Peterson was sidelined earlier this season with an ankle injury, and Gerhart stepped into the lineup and filled in admirably. He averaged 75.0 rushing yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry with 1 rushing TD while also hauling in 13 receptions for 80 yards and 1 TD. Then when Peterson left last week’s game in the 3rd quarter, Gerhart came in and immediately ripped off a 67-yard rush, the longest of his career, and finished the game with 11 carries for 109 yards, the first 100-yard rushing game of his NFL career.

By no means will anyone argue that Gerhart – or any other NFL RB – can replace the play-making ability of Peterson, but there’s also no question that Gerhart has shown that he can step into the lineup and be the kind of productive runner this Vikings offense needs.

“One of the things about Adrian’s absence earlier in the season, we had a chance to get Toby some extended snaps and we really haven’t altered the offense by any means,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier in the week. “Toby has done a very good job in Adrian’s absence, did a great job Saturday of stepping in and performing and rushing for over 100 yards. We really haven’t had to alter things and we really don’t plan to. We look forward to eventually getting Adrian back on the field but we don’t think we have to really alter the offense.”

Another reason besides Gerhart that the Vikings offense will maintain its philosophy for the last game of the season is the offensive line’s run-blocking ability. Yes, the offensive line has been criticized much this season for their pass protection. But this group has been very good in the running game. The Vikings enter the final week of the regular season ranked 3rd in rushing TDs with 17 and 4th in rushing yards per game with 149.3

“I don’t know that it does this last week,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave responded when asked if Peterson’s absence would require the offense to change philosophies. “Our O-line has embraced a lot of the concepts that we have gotten good at this year so we want to keep on keeping on in that regard and Toby has proved that whether it be Adrian or Lorenzo Booker or Toby back there, we can block people and create some holes.”

The Peterson-less Vikings offense will have a good challenge this week as they go against a Chicago Bears defense that ranks 6th against the run, allowing just 97.5 rushing yards per game. The Vikings ability to establish the run will be paramount to keeping the Bears defense off-balance, which is an important part of protecting QB Christian Ponder. And protecting Ponder so he can sit in the pocket and develop as a passer is the #1 reason to watch the Vikings this weekend.

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Ponder’s Chances To Play Sunday Hinge On Friday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 9, 2011 – 7:25 am

Vikings QB Christian Ponder injured his hip during last Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, but he was able to play through the pain and finish the game. Whether Ponder is able to play through the injury again this weekend in Detroit hinges largely on Friday’s practice.

Ponder has not participated in practice yet this week, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said his rookie QBs status will be in serious doubt if he’s not able to go through any of Friday’s workout.

“If he’s not able to do anything [Friday], it’d be hard pressed for us to put him in the game,” Frazier said. “We’d need to see him take some snaps and move around a little bit to make a decision about him playing.”

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise if Ponder is able to practice through the injury on Friday and ultimately suit up on Sunday. He has a history of playing through pain and injury going back to his days at Florida State when, as his former head coach Jimbo Fisher described, trainers would have to cut his elbow pad off his arm after games because of inflammation.

As able and willing as Ponder is to play through injury, though, Frazier stressed the importance of a QB being able to protect himself in the pocket. And that’s why the Vikings may not be willing to play him in a game until he demonstrates an ability to move around during practice.

“It’s just a matter of can he do the things he has to do as a quarterback,” Frazier explained. “One of the things he’s done so well is escape pressure with his mobility. So if he can handle that part of it…The mental part, he’s exceptional when it comes to that. He’ll get that. It’s a matter of ‘Can I protect myself if for some reason things break down?’”

Ponder’s offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, is a former NFL QB and he explained the impact a lower-body injury can have on a QB.

“The quarterbacks that I’ve been around in my experience, it’s tougher to play when you’re hurt from the waist down than hurt from the waist up,” Musgrave said. “When you throw, it starts with your foundation and rhythm and tempo that’s established with your footwork so you can get by more readily with a jammed finger or a sore elbow or a sprained shoulder than you can with something that happened down there at your foundation.”

We’ll know a lot more about Ponder’s status around noon on Friday, so stay tuned to for an update from Frazier after practice.

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Musgrave: No Need To “Put The Brakes On” With Ponder As Starter

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 20, 2011 – 12:25 pm

The Vikings have made a change at the QB position, but that doesn’t mean the offense is going back to the drawing board. Although Sunday will be rookie Christian Ponder’s first NFL start, Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave doesn’t expect to scale back any game-planning tasks.

“We feel like we can go forward with a full complement of volume,” Musgrave said on Thursday. “We want to expand each and every week, and continue to be tough to defend. But we don’t feel like we need to put the brakes on in any regard.”

There have been flashes through the first 6 games of the 2011 season of how Musgrave’s offense can produce when executed properly, but the Vikings haven’t been able to string together 4 quarters of solid play. With a new QB at the helm, it’s certainly reasonable to anticipate an uptick in production.

Prior to being named the new starting QB, Ponder was the Vikings backup and took the majority of scout team reps, along with any 1st-team reps the coaching staff felt Donovan McNabb didn’t need. That, Musgrave says, has helped Ponder to a certain extent. On Wednesday, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier told reporters that he’s seen Ponder make significant strides since the beginning of training camp, and Musgrave agreed.

“He’s done a good job of running the opposing team’s offense off the cards,” Musgrave said. “While a lot of us (teams) have similar concepts throughout the League, he got some time on task with certain routes and concepts that we employ. So it was good for him to get out there a little bit, even though it was off of a card.”

But Musgrave also acknowledged that there’s nothing like real-time playing experience.

As for splitting up practice reps now, Musgrave says Ponder will take as many as the coaching staff can get him.

“With Christian, we’re going to try to give him as many as we can to make up for lost time,” Musgrave said. “And then as we move through the season, we may scale that back a little bit just to keep his legs and arms fresh just to prepare for each Sunday.”

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Will “Book” Get A Better Look?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 13, 2011 – 10:55 am

Vikings fans were introduced to Lorenzo Booker late last year, when he was signed before the team’s Week 14 game against the NY Giants and wound up stepping into the kick return role. He did a nice job in the role, averaging 23.8 yards on 18 returns, including 3 returns of 40+ yards. 

The Vikings decided to bring Booker back to the team last offseason, and he responded by having a solid training camp and averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception in 4 preseason games. But beyond 8 kickoff returns in place of Percy Harvin occasionally, Booker hasn’t seen much of the field.

That changed last week, though, as Booker recorded 1 rush for 25 yards and also caught 2 passes for 25 yards. And it sounds like Booker may be getting a few more looks as the season moves forward.

“Book is a weapon,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Thursday.”He’s definitely a weapon. We were happy to get him some touches the other day. Looking back, we probably would’ve had more production if we would’ve done that early in the year. So we’re hoping to build on that and he’ll help us in certain situations like he did on Sunday.”

Booker is not the kind of RB you’d give 15-20 rushes to on the ground, and he’s not a player you’d line up consistently in the slot. But he is a player who can be effective and explosive in the right situations.

“He’s a tough matchup for linebackers,” Musgrave explained. “Book had a great preseason carrying the ball, too. So he’s not just a threat in the passing game, so we want to get him out there because he’s sharp, he knows who to block if they would rush him, but we can also get him out and let him do his thing in space.”

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Offense Will “Plan Our Work And Then Work Our Plan” Under Musgrave

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 8, 2011 – 1:50 pm

Football fans hear all the time that some teams like to script their first set of plays in a game. The idea of scripting plays is often talked about, but I’m not sure how often or in what manner it’s executed. Some coaches claim to script the first 20 plays, others script the first 10.

It sounds like the Vikings will have scripted plays in their weekly game plan under new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave.

“We have a certain number of plays we want to get run in the first half and then we also have some scripted plays that we want to get called in the second half,” Musgrave said on Thursday. “So we sit down as a staff and determine what best matches up against that respective defense.”

So while Musgrave says the Vikings will adopt the strategy of scripting plays, it also sounds like the plan to execute those scripted plays is not how it’s typically understood by those outside of the coaching profession.

“It’s hard to run them right down the list because field position changes, down and distance and things like that,” Musgrave explained, “but we definitely have an itemized and prioritized list that we want to get to at the earliest convenience.”

Musgrave indicated the number of scripted plays can change from week-to-week, but he also said the number of scripted plays is in the 25-50 range.

‘We definitely plan our work and then work our plan,” Musgrave said.

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Vikings Offense Takes Step Forward Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:28 pm

The Vikings ultimately didn’t win Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field, but the first-team offense took another step forward in their development under new coordinator Bill Musgrave.

QB Donovan McNabb was 12 of 18 for 156 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT on the night. He hit speedy WR Bernard Berrian over the top of Dallas’ defense for a 49-yard score in the 1st quarter and he found Percy Harvin four times for 29 yards in the 1st half. New WR Michael Jenkins also got in the mix during the 1st half with 2 receptions for 22 yards, including a 17-yard grab on the play right before McNabb’s interception; the interception came on a deflected pass.

While it was encouraging to see the passing game take flight against Dallas, there’s no question that the bread and butter of this offense will be the running game. Adrian Peterson took handoffs on five of the Vikings first six plays, which set up Berrian’s long TD score to cap the team’s opening drive. In total, Peterson gained 81 yards on 14 carries and looked explosive the entire night.

The performance by the Vikings first-team offensive line should not go unnoticed. The group welcomed back starting RG Anthony Herrera following his recovery from a serious knee injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. Herrera stepped in and the rest of the line displayed improvement, as Peterson burst past the first line of the Dallas defense on multiple occasions.

“We got into a good rhythm,” RT Phil Loadholt said after the game. “We were moving guys up front, got in a good rhythm and we were able to move the ball. As an offensive line, we love it when we hear that run call. The momentum, once you start putting drives together like that, you can see it in the defense that things are going well for us. It feels good once you get that momentum.”

The Vikings first-team offense strung together drives of 83, 51, 56 and 45 yards on Saturday night, largely thanks to the protection and run blocking provided by the line. In his postgame press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he was impressed with the offensive line early in the game and he also said Herrera’s performance was encouraging. Asked if Herrera would be able to play in the regular season opener on September 11 in San Diego, Frazier said the feisty veteran had “a chance,” which is good news as Herrera comes back from that knee injury.

All in all, we’ll temper the enthusiasm because the Vikings lost the game and there were still productive drives that didn’t end with TDs. At the same time, it was encouraging to see the offensive take yet another step forward in their development. McNabb stretched the field vertically with Berrian and Jenkins, and then Harvin and Peterson did their work underneath.

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McNabb Says Offense Is Coming Along; Practice Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2011 – 3:41 pm

Vikings QB Donovan McNabb met with reporters after practice on Wednesday, just three days before the Vikings suit up for preseason game #3. Typically the third preseason game is when starters see the most playing time, so Saturday night’s contest against the Dallas Cowboys should give us a pretty good glimpse into just how much progress the Vikings offense has made.

Remember, coming off a lockout that canceled all Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps in addition to a new Offensive Coordinator and starting QB has the Vikings a bit behind the 8 ball. But the Vikings won’t use that as an excuse for poor play, largely because many other teams are enduring the same or similar disadvantages and also because there’s a sense among many on this team that the offense is making strides.

“We’re getting very close, we’re getting very close,” McNabb said about the chemistry developing between himself and the receivers. “I’m excited with where we’re at right now and those guys kind of have a feel of where I may place the ball [when] they come out of their routes. I have a feel of how they’re going to come out of their routes.

“But again, each game is different and it’s a learning process for all of us and hopefully once the whistle blows come Game One we’re right where we want to be.”

That’s the goal – to be ready to go once Week 1 rolls around and then to continue getting better from that point forward. It seemed as if the Vikings offense made a step forward in that effort on Wednesday. During one full team period of practice, I was standing just behind Musgrave and I heard him complement the Vikings offense a number of times on their spacing and timing.

“We had a good day today,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice, speaking about his entire team. “I really believe we got better in some areas. We worked a little bit of short yardage, some goal line and some two-minute. Great weather again for us to practice in, which really helps a lot as you’re trying to mold the team and get the team ready for our third preseason game.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Frazier continued. “This game on [Thursday] night will give us a better indication of where we are and how far we have to go to be ready for our first regular season game.”

Here are a few observations from practice…

– The Vikings worked for roughly two hours on Wednesday in full pads and in warm, breezy conditions.

– Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who returned to practice from a hamstring injury on Tuesday, was not out on the field taking part in practice on Wednesday. Frazier said Shiancoe incurred a setback, but said it was not a major setback. The Vikings ultimately decided to hold him back on Wednesday rather than risk further injury.

– With Shiancoe on the sidelines, rookie TE Kyle Rudolph saw a few more reps. He’s had a tremendous training camp so far and he was very good on Wednesday. The one aspect of Rudolph’s game that I notice the most is how sure-handed he is; you rarely, if ever, see him take his eye off the ball before he secures it and moves upfield. He also rarely traps the football against his body to catch it.

– There was some pretty good action in the goal line portion of Wednesday’s practice. On three straight plays, the Vikings defense made stops against the scout team. On the first play, DT Letroy Guion penetrated and stopped a run in the backfield. On the second play, the offense used a play-action fake to try and fool the defense but LB Erin Henderson did not bite and was able to tip the pass and cause an incompletion. On the third and final play of the series, DT Christian Ballard and CB Cedric Griffin combined to stop a run short of the goal line.

– WR Percy Harvin made the play of the day on a pass from rookie QB Christian Ponder. Harvin was flying down the left sideline and was able to catch up to and dive under a pass that Ponder had launched downfield. Harvin came up with the ball, secured it all the way to the ground and then quickly got to his feet and completed the play by dashing to the endzone. This was one of the plays when Musgrave complemented Ponder and Harvin on “great timing.” In fact, Musgrave made the “great timing” comment as Ponder’s pass was in the air and about 75% of the way to where Harvin ended up making the catch.

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