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Emptying Out The Notebook For OTAs 4-6

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 7, 2012 – 2:11 pm

Another productive and successful week of Organized Team Activities is in the books, as the Vikings conducted OTA #6 on Thursday at Winter Park. The Vikings are now 60% of the way through their OTA schedule and have completed seven weeks of their nine-week offseason program.

A lot happened this week during OTAs, including: Both LB Chad Greenway and WR Percy Harvin rejoining the team on Tuesday; QB Christian Ponder and WR Jerome Simpson stealing the show on Wednesday; several Vikings players and coaches helping out at a Special Olympics Minnesota Punt, Pass and Kick clinic; WRs coach George Stewart answering questions in this week’s Pick 6; and WR Jerome Simpson appearing in this week’s Wobcast.

In such a jam-packed week, it’s easy for a few important topics to slip through the cracks. To prevent that from happening, let’s empty out the notebook from this week.

Win with Winfield
Injuries held CB Antoine Winfield to just 5 games in 2011, and the crafty veteran is entering his 14th season. But don’t expect his play to decline. In fact, as Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained earlier in the week, Winfield will be relied up for both leadership and playmaking ability this year.

“The fact that he’s here and participating in all of these OTAs, I told him the other day that I don’t take that for granted,” Frazier said, “and really appreciate him being here because he provides veteran leadership for some of the new faces that we have in the secondary and he’s a great player. We need his leadership, we need his playmaking ability on the football field and he’s played a number of years in this League but we don’t think his best football is behind him.”

Who will be the RB3?
The Vikings have as good a 1-2 punch at RB that you could ask for in Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. Both are coming back from injury, however, which makes the team’s quest for a third RB important.

“That number three back for us really needs to be a guy who can step in and play in early downs, not just in third-down situations, which is more the norm for most third-down backs,” Frazier said. “There are guys who are more specialty types, and for us he needs to be a guy who can carry the ball as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. We are looking for a little bit more out of the third back this season.”

After Peterson and Gerhart, the Vikings have four RBs listed: Derrick Coleman, Jerome Felton, Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman.

Sully takes charge
One of the best draft picks the Vikings have had since Rick Spielman joined the club is C John Sullivan. The Vikings selected Sullivan in the 6th round in 2008, and initially he studied behind veteran Matt Birk while also playing special teams. In 2009, Sullivan was the starter and snapped to future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. Those two seasons were key for Sullivan in terms of learning how to operate as an NFL center and as a leader.

Now, those two years are paying off both for Sullivan and the team. Sullivan is a leader on the offensive line, and he’s also taking on more of a leadership role with the whole team, according to Frazier.

“John is a guy we’re really counting on from a leadership standpoint,” Frazier said. “He was rewarded, as you know, this past season with a good contract and because of how he has matured on the football field, he’s really come along and he’s begun to accept that role as a leader.”

Frazier is right – it’s clear that Sullivan has taken a leadership role with the club. Every team has high draft picks who end up being impact players, but just as important as those players are the John Sullivans of the world. The Vikings are lucky to have Sullivan.

Another late-round gem?
Sullivan is one example of a late-round pick making a big difference on the team. Is Stephen Burton an example in the making? We don’t know yet. The former 7th-rounder out of West Texas A&M has flashed quite a bit during OTAs and he’s even caught the eye of Frazier.

“You can see the confidence and that’s a big thing for a receiver, big thing for any young player,” Frazier said. “He has tremendous athletic ability and he is one of those guys who can jump out of the gym and make the acrobatic catch, but his confidence, that’s the one thing that you can see is coming through now.”

Burton, who played in 3 games as a rookie last year, measures in at 6-1, 224 pounds and could also be a contributor on special teams, perhaps as a returner.

“The good thing for Stephen is that he was able to get some reps in ball games a year ago when I know he wasn’t expecting that early on and neither were we,” Frazier explained. “That helped him because he has a lot more confidence at this stage than when we had him in training camp.”

Burton has clearly taken a step forward in 2012, and I’m looking forward to watching him compete during the summer and into the preseason. The Vikings currently have 12 receivers on the roster.


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Ponder, Simpson Steal The Show At OTA #5

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 6, 2012 – 2:07 pm

Wednesday was a good day of work for the Vikings as they continued their series of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park. The team worked in ideal conditions for a second consecutive day, and this time the approximately 90-minute practice was conducted in front of a full contingent of media.

Following practice, several Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier took part in a Special Olympics Minnesota Punt, Pass & Kick clinic.

“We tried to put our guys through the paces today and hit a few different situations,” Frazier said. “It’s so good to be able to come out here and practice and you plan things, and now you get to see it (the plan) come to fruition. It’s good for our football team, the attitude has been great and when you have guys on our team working as hard as they’re working, and then to take time out and go and do what they did after practice to help other people, it just shows you the type of integrity and character you try to develop on a team.”

There were a lot of good things happening on the field both offensively and defensively on Wednesday, but there’s no doubt that QB Christian Ponder and WR Jerome Simpson stole the show about half-way through practice during a team offense vs. team defense period. Ponder dropped back and launched a pass deep down the right sideline, and Simpson used his speed to track the ball and make an acrobatic leaping catch over a defender before falling to the ground and securing the ball for a completion.

“That’s what he’s been doing for five practices,” Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph said after Wednesday’s workout.

Said Frazier: “Whoa, what a catch. We’ll be looking forward to seeing that on Sundays! I mean, all of his teammates were going, ‘Wow, now I understand why he’s here.’ So that was impressive.”

Click here to see video of the Ponder-to-Simpson circus-style catch and click here to listen to this week’s Wobcast, with Simpson joining as the guest.

The connection with Simpson was Ponder’s best completion of the day, but he also made impressive throws to WRs Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright. The completion to Wright came on a deep out route along the right sideline, and the completion to Burton came on a slant pattern across the middle of the field with Ponder placing the football where only Burton had a chance to catch it, and Burton fully extending to dive and make the catch.

The Vikings concluded practice with a competitive period in which the team worked in a backed up situation (offense on their own 2-yardline) and in the no-huddle.

“So far, we’re making some progress, but we still have a long ways to go to come together as a team,” Frazier said. “That’s why we have these OTAs and that’s why we’ll have minicamp and the preseason as well. We’re making progress, but we definitely have a ways to go.”


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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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Notes From Frazier Press Conference

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 12, 2011 – 2:23 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier held his customary day-after-the-game press conference on Monday afternoon and in so doing he provided a quick injury update and then discussed some of the big issues coming out of Sunday’s close 34-28 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Here are a few notes from the press conference…

– Frazier the most significant injury coming out of the game was WR Stephen Burton, who injured the MCL in one of his knees. Burton will not undergo surgery, but the timetable for his rehab and return is such that he wouldn’t be able to make it back before the season concludes. As a result, the Vikings have placed him on the Reserve/Injured list, they’ve elevated Manny Arceneaux from the Practice Squad and Frazier indicated the team may sign another WR to take Arceneaux’s place on the Practice Squad.

– Frazier was optimistic on Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder being able to play this weekend against the New Orleans Saints. Frazier described Peterson, who is dealing with an ankle injury, as close to being able to play last Sunday and Ponder as “no worse for the wear” after playing into the 3rd quarter against Detroit with his hip injury. Frazier also noted that DE Brian Robison “banged” his knee during the game but was able to finish.

– The 6-point loss on Sunday in Detroit marks the 8th loss of 7 points or fewer for the Vikings this season. That’s a remarkable stat for this Vikings team considering the injuries they’ve had to overcome. With the losses mounting up, it’s also a credit to the leadership on the Vikings coaching staff and in the locker room that the team continues to battle so hard in close games. No one wants to be the loveable losers, but it’s even worse to be the bad team that doesn’t even try hard. The Vikings clearly are not a group that doesn’t fight to the end, and Frazier appreciates that team quality. “As I mentioned before, not a lot of solace when you lose games when you’re battling every week to try to get a win like we are,” Frazier said, “but the fact that they are continuing to fight and not giving up and not make any excuses gives you some hope that we’ll continue to fight each and every week and hopefully eventually get it turned where some of those tough losses end up being victories. Hats off to our players for fighting the way they’re fighting.”

– Detroit’s 2nd TD of the game came on a 57-yard pass to WR Titus Young on a play where Young ran past CB Cedric Griffin and then beat S Jamarca Sanford further down the field to haul in the pass and dash into the end zone. On the play, Griffin’s responsibility is to re-route the WR early, and then to pass the receiver off to the safety. The problem was that Griffin didn’t get a sufficient re-route of Young, which enabled the Matthew Stafford-to-Young hookup and score. Griffin didn’t see much action after that play and Frazier was asked about the situation on Monday. Frazier said Griffin is not “in my dog house” and that the team will discuss the issue and move forward this week with a plan. I don’t expect Frazier will “give up” on Griffin, a player who has come back from severe knee injuries and is a good locker room guy. As Frazier said, the technique of re-routing a WR is something Griffin has executed countless times in the past and it’s likely something he’ll continue to be able to execute for the team going forward.

– The big story of the game for the Vikings is the removal of Ponder in favor of Webb, and then Webb’s subsequent performance and ability to nearly bring the team back to victory. While Frazier has maintained that Ponder is the team’s starter, he’s also acknowledged that the team would prefer to get Webb on the field more frequently because of his play-making ability. The issue right now is that Webb is the backup QB, and his value as the backup QB (which we saw on Sunday in Detroit) is too much to risk by having him on the field frequently. Once Sage Rosenfels, acquired two weeks ago, is more up to speed, then expect to see Webb in a more expanded role on offense. “No question, he is a guy who can create players when there’s nothing there,” Frazier said. “And we’ve got to do more as far as getting him out there and trying to put him in position to make plays, especially when Adrian is not playing and you’re relying so much on Percy. We need all the playmakers on the field that we can get and he is for sure one of our playmakers. It’s something we’ve got to continue to explore. We have some packages that we use sporadically, maybe we’ve got to go a little bit deeper with those packages.”


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Vikings Make Several Changes To Roster

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 29, 2011 – 5:33 pm

There were no press conferences and players have the day off, but Tuesday was still a busy day at Winter Park as the Vikings made several changes to the active roster and the practice squad. After a rash of injuries, a few of which came in last Sunday’s game against the Falcons, the Vikings have placed 4 players on the Reserve/Injured (IR) list and signed 5 others to the active roster/practice squad.

S Husain Abdullah, WR Michael Jenkins, S Tyrell Johnson and long snapper Cullen Loeffler were all placed on IR. Jenkins, Johnson and Loeffler were all injured last Sunday, while Abdullah has missed the last two games after suffering a concussion against the the Packers in Week 10.

To fill those four roster spots, the Vikings signed WR Stephen Burton, long snapper Matt Katula, S Jarrad Page and S Andrew Sendejo. The team also signed TE Mickey Shuler to the practice squad. There was one opening on the practice squad after the Vikings promoted Allen Reisner to the active roster last Saturday and waived Burton to make room for the move.

Vikings fans will recognize the names of Burton and Shuler because both have been with the team recently. Burton was a 7th-round pick in last April’s draft and has been with the Vikings the entire season. Shuler was also a 7th-round pick of the Vikings (2010) but was claimed by the Miami Dolphins when the Vikings tried to clear him through waivers to add to the practice squad.

Page might also be a recognizable name because he’s a 6-year veteran out of UCLA who has spent time with Kansas City, New England and Philadelphia. He was a 7th-round pick of the Chiefs in 2006, was acquired via trade by the Patriots in 2010, signed with the Eagles in August of 2011 and then was released by the Eagles earlier this month.

Katula is a 6-year veteran out of Wisconsin who has spent time with the Baltimore Ravens (2005-09) and the Patriots (2010). New England signed Katula in November of 2010 and then waived him in August of this year.

Sendejo went undrafted out of Rice in 2010 and has spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and NY Jets. In November of 2010 Sendejo was signed to the Cowboys practice squad and then was promoted to the active roster just days later. In September of this year, Sendejo was claimed by the Jets off waivers, was later waived and re-signed, and was finally waived again on September 27.


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Vikings Promote TE Allen Reisner To Active Roster

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 26, 2011 – 11:32 am

The Vikings have tweaked their roster in advance of Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

TE Allen Reisner has been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster. To make room for Reisner, the Vikings waived WR Stephen Burton.

With both Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph on the injury report this week, Reisner could be a factor for the Vikings on Sunday.


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Sunday’s Inactives Give Several Vikings Youngsters A Look

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 30, 2011 – 9:35 am

The inactive list and several other circumstances leading up to today’s game will give several young Vikings players plenty of playing time. Let’s take a look at a few of them…

QB Christian Ponder – He’ll be making his 2nd consecutive start today after a good debut showing last week against the Green Bay Packers. Ponder will go head-to-head against another rookie QB in Cam Newton, who is far and away the NFL’s most sensational first-year player. Today marks the first time in franchise history that the Vikings and their opponent will both start rookies at QB.

WR Stephen Burton – When Bernard Berrian was released earlier in the week, it was Burton who was promoted to the active roster. Not only is he on the 53-man roster, he’s active today and it looks like he could get a look at kickoff returner with Lorenzo Booker among the inactives.

CBs Asher Allen, Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels – These 3 youngsters will see significant action today with Antoine Winfield inactive (neck) and Chris Cook on a leave of absence from the team. This will be Burton’s 3rd game on the active roster, Allen will get the start opposite Cedric Griffin and Sherels will be on the field whenever the Vikings are in their nickel defense.


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After Hard Work, Rookie WR Stephen Burton Gets An Opportunity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 27, 2011 – 6:54 am

On Wednesday we discussed the possibility of Greg Camarillo’s role with the team increasing, in part because of the Vikings decision to release WR Bernard Berrian. But Berrian’s release presents another Vikings WR with a big opportunity, too.

Rookie Stephen Burton, who was selected by the Vikings in last April’s draft with a 7th-round pick (#236 overall) out of Division II West Texas A&M, was promoted from the practice squad to fill Berrian’s vacant spot on the active roster. Burton is now the 9th of 10 Vikings draft picks from last April to make the active roster.

As Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune pointed out, Burton’s promotion to the active roster comes roughly 6 months after he received a call from the Vikings notifying him that he’s been drafted.

“That draft call was incredible,” Burton told Wiederer. “Because of the lockout, if you went undrafted, it would have been months of not knowing if you’d get an opportunity. So for me, that was such a highlight. But when I got the message Tuesday about getting called up, that was a great feeling in a different way. My first thought was, ‘This is awesome.’ After all the hard work, I’m finally getting an opportunity.”

Burton stands at 6-1, 221 pounds and is a developmental prospect at the WR position. But with rookie Christian Ponder now the starting QB, the team’s record at 1-6 with the midpoint of the season around the corner and, perhaps most importantly, one of the best WR coaches in the business on staff in George Stewart, now is a great time to give a player such as Burton a chance to prove himself.

Promotion to the active roster doesn’t necessarily mean a player will be active for a game. The active roster contains 53 players, but teams are permitted to dress 46 of them on game day. So Burton could be inactive on Sundays, or his ability to impress coaches could meet a sudden need at the position, which might result in him suiting up in a game.

Increasing Burton’s chances of seeing the field on Sundays this season is his ability to perform on special teams. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday that Burton has kickoff return capabilities, and if Burton can also display skill in kick coverage, his chances of playing will only increase.

“He’s a guy who has really grown from the time we got him to the point where we’ve been commenting about him over the last two or three weeks,” Frazier said. “He had some hamstring issues when we were in Mankato so he missed some time and we really couldn’t get a feel for where he was but once he got that injury behind him you could see the promise that he has. We’re excited to see how he performs now that he has this chance.”


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Vikings Waive Berrian, Promote Burton

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 25, 2011 – 1:24 pm

The Vikings on Tuesday waived WR Bernard Berrian and signed WR Stephen Burton to the active roster.

Berrian was inactive for 2 of the Vikings last 3 games and his release on Tuesday is the end to what has been a tenuous run of late with the Vikings. To fill his spot on the roster the Vikings promoted Burton from the practice squad. Burton was a 7th-round draft choice of the Vikings last April out of West Texas A&M.

The Vikings also terminated the practice squad contract of DL Cedric McKinley.


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Punt Return Job Looks Wide Open; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 4:11 pm

In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I made the case for Lorenzo Booker to take care of kickoff return duties for the Vikings this season. The punt return job, however, is not quite as simple to delegate at this point.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s practice officially began, I watched 8 Vikings take turns fielding punts. They were: CBs Asher Allen, Cord Parks, Marcus Sherels and Devon Torrence; WRs Stephen Burton, Greg Camarillo and Jaymar Johnson; and RB Lorenzo Booker.

Camarillo was the primary punt returner last season, fielding 39 of the team’s 42 punt returns. He hasn’t done anything to lose the responsibility and is in fact one of the surest-handed returners in the group, but there’s nothing wrong with opening up the job for competition. Through one preseason game, Johnson has the best results (1 return for 40 yards) and Sherels has returned a pair of punts for 4 yards.

There are higher-profile position battles on the Vikings roster this year, such as backup QB and starting safety, but the importance of the punt return position battle should not be understated. The candidates for the job come from a variety of different positions, which means the punt return job has an impact on several areas of the team when it comes time for coaches and scouts to pick the 53-man rosters.

We’ll continue to monitor this position battle for you on vikings.com throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason. Here are a few notes from Tuesday afternoon’s practice…

– The team worked in full pads for just short of 2.5 hours under partly cloudy skies. The temperature was fairly warm, but there was a persistent wind that cooled the air and made life a bit more difficult for P Chris Kluwe and K Ryan Longwell.

– Longwell, though, was solid during the special teams period and connected on a high percentage of his FG tries.

– RG Anthony Herrera practice for the second straight day and continues to ease back into the swing of things. He worked with the first-team offense. Also working with the first-team offense again on Tuesday was Scott Kooistra.

– Tyrell Johnson was a safety on the first-team defense and Chris Cook worked with the first-team nickel defense.

– The Vikings coaching staff gave the one-on-one drill between WRs and CBs/safeties a different twist. Ordinarily the drill pits just one WR against one CB, but on Tuesday the Vikings worked on route combinations. There were three DBs on the field for the drill (one safety, two CBs) and two WRs. The drill not only had the offensive players working on route combinations and the defensive players working on defensive schemes, but it also forced the defense to communicate and it forced the QB to make a decision on which receiver to target.

– There is usually a “special category” period of practice, which is commonly referred to as “special cats.” Tuesday’s “special cats” period had the offense working in the no-huddle against a 40-second play clock. A few interesting things to note about this period of practice: QB Donovan McNabb ran the no-huddle for the first-team offense flawlessly and without error; Camarillo saw a lot of extra time with the first-team as a slot WR with Harvin sitting out (more on that below); and rookie Brandon Burton grabbed an INT during the period off of Christian Ponder on an impressive play where he tipped the pass and was able to concentrate in traffic to haul in the pick.

– Guys who sat out of practice on Tuesday: S Simeon Castiille, LBs Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu, DE D’Aundre Reed and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. WR Percy Harvin took part in the early portions of practice but then sat out for most of the workout. It looked like a precautionary move more than anything because he stuck around outside for the entire practice and was interacting with his teammates. Harvin was bothered by a rib injury near the end of the Mankato portion of training camp. Also, LB Jonathan Gilmore left practice early; no indication on his injury.

– I’m not sure how much it’s worth tracking which players are playing with the first-team, second-team and third-team, mostly because coaches are still experimenting with different combinations as they try to shape their position groups. So at the risk of jumping to conclusions, or causing you to jump to conclusions, here’s how a few positions appear to be shaking out: Adrian Awasom (LDE) and Everson Griffen (RDE) are consistently with the second-team; Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are second-team DTs; rookie LB Ross Homan and veteran LB Mark Washington have been primarily with the second-team defense the past two days; Asher Allen and Chris Cook are the second-team CBs, but Sherels is rotated into the mix on occasion; Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are the second-team safeties and both have taken turns with the first-team; the second-team nickel features Burton and Devon Torrence at outside CB, Marcus Sherels in the slot, Jasper Brinkley and Ross Homan at LB and a rotation at safety among Chris Adingupu, Raymond and Sanford.

– Rookie DeMarcus Love, a 4-year starter at the University of Arkansas in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference (SEC), seems to have established himself as the second-team LT.


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