Friday, May 28, 2021

Riley Reiff made great first impression with Bengals at OTAs

Chris Roling 

It didn’t take long for offensive tackle Riley Reiff to make a big impression on his new Cincinnati Bengals teammates and coaches.

Signed as the possible solution for the problem at right tackle, Reiff showed up on the first day of voluntary OTA workouts and was the first lineman on the field.

Geoff Hobson of captured the scene:

“Reiff was the first O-lineman on the field Tuesday morning as he stretched himself out. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack couldn’t contain his glee as he pointed at him and exclaimed, ‘Look at that, ten-year guy and he’s the first one out here. That’s why he’s been in the league so long.'”


It’s saying something that a line coach like Frank Pollack came away so impressed with the veteran.

Of course, it says quite a bit more about Reiff, who is now 32 and playing for his third team in his career, this time on a one-year deal.

This small, albeit big bit of action from Reiff shows that he fits in just right alongside what the Bengals are trying to do leadership-wise. After prioritizing collegiate captains in the draft and veteran leaders on the market, it’s clear Reiff is right there as a key locker room presence leading by example. 

If Reiff’s play can match some of the positivity of his early impressions, he’ll go down as one of free agency’s bigger steals.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Ravens Productions Nominated for Six Emmy Awards


Baltimore Ravens
25th May 2021, 23:25 GMT+10


Ravens Productions is at it again with six nominations for this year's Capital Emmy Awards.

Ravens Productions has taken home a staggering 47 Emmy awards, including seven last year.

This year's winners will be announced at the virtual 63rd National Capital Chesapeake Bay Emmy Awards Gala on June 26.

"These Emmy nominations are particularly rewarding," Vice President of Broadcasting Jay O'Brien said. "Despite the challenges of producing content during the 2020 season, our content team's commitment to Ravens fans only strengthened. I am proud of our team's resilience, and to be recognized by our peers with these nominations is special."

The Ravens' co-production of a Mo Gaba feature is also up for a national Sports Emmy. The winner will be announced on June 8.

Here are this year's Capital Emmy nominations:

Sports Story - Short Form

Letters to Lamar

Writer - Short Form

Marshal Yanda - Forever a Raven

Sports Promotion

The Chapters

Editor - Sports

Jack Dana

Graphic Arts

Brent Airey

Graphic Arts

Brittany Jorge

Notre Dame, Iowa, Stanford or Miami: Which school is the true ‘Tight End U.’?


By The Athletic College Football Staff 

May 24, 2021


Notre Dame has developed 12 tight ends into NFL draft picks over the last 20 years, the most of any school over that span. In 2019, Iowa had two tight ends selected in the same first round for the first time in NFL draft history. Four Miami (Fla.) tight ends have compiled at least 5,000 receiving yards in the NFL over the last 20 years. Stanford’s tight-end profile resembles all of them in some way.

But which school actually is “Tight End U.?” That’s a debate of which three of the schools legitimately have an argument. Stanford has produced several quality NFL tight ends, including two Pro Bowl-caliber players in Zach Ertz and Austin Hooper, but perhaps lacks the high-end NFL superstars who represent the other three schools. Florida recently called itself “Tight End U.” after Kyle Pitts’ incredible 2020 season, but only one selection in the last eight drafts doesn’t get it done. Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis tried to affix the label to his program when he joined the Wolverines but the Twitter swarm instantly ratioed his assertion.

To break it down, The Athletic college football reporters Manny NavarroPete Sampson and Scott Dochterman, who cover MiamiNotre Dame and Iowa, respectively, examine what basis each school has to make the claim of “Tight End U.”

This exercise is going to get provincial off the top, so we might as well make the case right away.

Why can the school you cover claim itself to be ‘Tight End U.?’

Sampson: Notre Dame football never met a historical college football argument that it didn’t like. But the case of “Tight End U.” is one of those where modern production matches up with those historical takes around the program. To start, every Notre Dame No. 1 tight end to start the season has been drafted since 2004. That’s back to the final year of Tyrone Willingham’s tenure. To have a streak go that long and endure the ups and downs of Notre Dame, that made it more impressive. This football program has been all over the place during the past two decades, but its tight end talent has been consistent throughout. On top of that, half of these tight ends are going first or second round in the NFL draft. It’s not like the Irish have kept this run going with some creative bookkeeping, with a couple exceptions.

Combine that with the fact Notre Dame has had a tight end drafted in four straight NFL drafts and it might have the best tight end in the country in sophomore Michael Mayer coming back, it’s all a strong claim that the Irish are “Tight End U.” today after going back and forth with Miami, Stanford and Iowa over the past few years.

Dochterman: Five years ago, Iowa was in the conversation for this title based on a generation’s worth of quality tight ends. There was a continuation of NFL-caliber tight ends beginning with 2002 Mackey Award winner Dallas Clark, who was an upper-level player with the Indianapolis Colts. But in the 2017 NFL Draft’s fifth round, the 49ers plucked George Kittle (who ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper classified as a fullback, by the way) and the “Tight End U.” moniker went from ambiguous to automatic. Kittle set the single-season NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end in 2018 and even helped start a holiday dedicated to tight ends. Then in 2019, Iowa became the first school with two first-round tight ends with T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Iowa is the only program on this list with two Mackey Award winners in the last 20 years.

In the 2019 NFL Draft, Iowa’s Noah Fant (left) and T.J. Hockenson became the first pair of tight end teammates ever selected in the same first round. (Matthew Holst / Getty Images)


In the same tight end room at Iowa in 2016 included Kittle, Hockenson, Fant and current NFL tight ends Nate Wieting and Shaun Beyer. After a slight production dip the last two years, the Hawkeyes again have four quality tight ends led by potential All-American Sam LaPorta. While none of those players were four-star recruits, they all developed at Iowa. Development matters.

Navarro: Since I cover the school that invented swagger, I’m coming at this with a lot of that. First off, it’s cute we’re even having this conversation when Iowa, Stanford and Notre Dame’s 11 combined Pro Bowl appearances for tight ends is still two shy of the 13 Miami has put up over the last two decades. Secondly, three of the top four producing tight ends in terms of catches, yards, and touchdowns among these schools are Hurricanes. Greg Olsen (742 catches, 8,683 yards, 60 TDs) and Jimmy Graham (699 catches, 8,399 yards, 82 TDs) rank fifth and sixth respectively all-time among NFL tight ends in catches — more than seven other tight ends already in the Hall of Fame. Plus, Miami’s four first-round picks at tight end over the last two decades (Olsen, David Njoku, Kellen Winslow II and Jeremy Shockey) are also more than any of the schools involved in this discussion.

Sure, we’re still living in the past down here in Coral Gables, holding onto it with every fiber of our being as the years and mediocre seven- and eight-win seasons keep piling up. But Miami has continued producing quality NFL talent year after year over that stretch and 2021 fifth-round pick Brevin Jordan, a Mackey award finalist in 2020, could end up being a steal for the Houston Texans. Miami could also have the best tight end in the ACC this fall in former four-star recruit Will Mallory, Jordan’s understudy the past three years.

What’s the school’s history like at the position? Where did this all start and is 20 years a good number?

Sampson: Mark Bavaro is better known as a New York Giant than a Notre Dame tight end, but he played here during some down times in the early 80’s under Gerry Faust. The more historical starting point for Notre Dame’s tight end heritage goes back to Dave Casper, who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame a decade before the College Football Hall of Fame let him in. He was the offensive MVP of the 1973 national champions, even though the player who made the most famous catch of that season was backup tight end Robin Weber, whose 36-yard catch from Tom Clements near the Irish goal line in the final minutes helped beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. After Casper departed for the Raiders, Notre Dame replaced him with Ken MacAfee, a three-time first-team All-American, Walter Camp Player of the Year and a Top-10 pick.

Dochterman: Iowa had quality tight ends in the past, particularly with Jim Gibbons’ game-winning touchdown pass against Ohio State in 1956 to send the Hawkeyes to their first Rose Bowl. In the 1980s, Hayden Fry had tight ends standing up at the line of scrimmage and peering at the linebackers to identify coverages. The best-known was Marv Cook, the 1988 consensus All-American, a two-time team MVP and Iowa’s all-time leader in receptions by tight ends. He even led the Big Ten in catches that year and later became an All-Pro with the New England Patriots. There were other All-Big Ten tight ends at Iowa in that era, in particular Jonathan Hayes, Mike Flagg, Alan Cross and Michael Titley. But the real era of “Tight End U.” came into play with Kirk Ferentz and Dallas Clark in the early 2000s.


Iowa drafted TEs since 2002

Navarro: Miami’s had 21 tight ends drafted all-time, going back to Miami Dolphins second-round pick Jim Cox in 1968. But the run of Pro Bowl tight ends began in 2000 with Bubba Franks, the 14th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Franks made three Pro Bowls with the Green Bay Packers and had more than 400 receptions in his career.

Franks is one of five Miami tight ends with more than 400 receptions in their pro careers. Casper and Bavaro never did that (Sorry, had to take a jab at the hated Irish to make Miami fans smile).

Which player identifies most with each school’s case for ‘Tight End U?’

Sampson: It’s either Kyle Rudolph or Tyler Eifert. Probably a split decision between the two. Rudolph had the best moment, a 95-yard touchdown catch against Michigan that should have beat the Wolverines in Brian Kelly’s second game. If Rudolph returns for his senior year, he’s a surefire first-round pick. Eifert played on the better team, led the Irish in catches during a run to the BCS National Championship Game and won the Mackey Award. He’s the only Notre Dame tight end to do that and the only recent tight end to be a first-rounder.

Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert won the 2012 Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Dochterman: Clark produced the defining plays for the position in 2002 with a 95-yard catch-and-run touchdown, then a 7-yard game-winning touchdown reception against Purdue. Kittle has elevated the position’s profile like power chords turned rock music into heavy metal. Probably the best example is Hockenson, who was the No. 66-rated TE in the class of 2016 and became the Mackey Award winner in 2018, the No. 8 overall pick in 2019 and a Pro Bowler in 2020.

Navarro: You could make the case for Shockey, Olsen or Graham. Shockey’s late touchdown catch against No. 1 Florida State in 2000 is as iconic a moment in Miami’s climb back into the national championship hunt as any and after an All-Pro rookie season with the Giants, he won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2009. Olsen had the longest and most productive pro career and Graham went from playing power forward on the basketball team to making the most of his one season on the football team. Winslow II won the Mackey Award in 2003, but his 2019 conviction on rape and sexual battery charges eliminates him from poster-boy status for Miami.

How much should we figure college production vs. professional performance in this debate?

Sampson: Considering how much it gets used in recruiting, it probably should. But “production” here is getting drafted in the first or second round more than it’s making the Pro Bowl or winning the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s getting that second contract. But put it this way, no one calls Michigan “QB U.” because of Tom Brady.

Notre Dame drafted TEs since 2002

What has each school done to cultivate and use the moniker ‘Tight End U?’ Has it impacted recruiting throughout the years or even recently? Are there any current tight ends who could swing this debate?

Sampson: Well, just last week (it was tweeted on May 17) the football program’s Twitter account tweeted out the fact that Tommy Tremble (third round pick to the Carolina Panthers) was the 11th Notre Dame tight end drafted since 2005. So yeah, it’s a pretty constant recruiting pitch around here.

But the tiebreaker in all this might be sophomore Michael Mayer, who was a five-star prospect and is Notre Dame’s leading returner in receptions with comparisons already being thrown around with Eifert. If Mayer is a three-and-out player who becomes a first round pick, that should nudge Notre Dame ahead of Iowa, Stanford and Miami.

Stanford drafted TEs since 2002


Dochterman: The Hawkeyes benefited greatly from the four-hour NFL draft infomercial in 2019 by signing two talented prospects in Luke Lachey (son of former Ohio State All-American lineman and longtime NFL veteran Jim Lachey) and Eli Yelverton. Both were highly sought and should contribute this year behind true junior Sam LaPorta, who in 2020 became the first tight end to lead Iowa in receptions since Scott Chandler in 2005. Lachey, in particular, shows potential as the next installment in this series once LaPorta heads to the NFL. Lachey is an athletic freak.

Navarro: Miami never stops tweeting about it being #TightEndU and they’ll stretch the numbers outside of our little debate to make their argument.

Mallory has an NFL body and reminds many of Olsen in terms of his potential. Njoku has fought through injury his first few years in the league, but could be primed for a big year with the Cleveland Browns. With Jordan, Chris Herndon (Jets) and Njoku in the league, Miami will have three active tight ends who could all play significant roles on their teams in 2021. That helps the recruiting pitch. Miami landed four-star Elijah Arroyo in the last cycle out of Texas because he said he wanted to play for #TightEndU.

In closing, which school do you think deserves the nickname? Is the debate over? Did this discussion influence your decision at all?

Sampson: Ten years ago it was Miami, with Stanford under consideration. Two years ago it’s probably Iowa. Today it’s Notre Dame for the sake of longevity and what’s coming next in Michael Mayer. And considering the Irish will take two tight ends in three straight recruiting classes, including Iowa product Eli Raridon in the 2022 class to go with four-star Holden Staes, it feels like Notre Dame is in the ascendancy among the Tight End U. programs.

Dochterman: I do think all four schools (Stanford included) have a claim to the moniker. Over the last 20 years, I’d say Miami clearly had the advantage through 2007 (and gets to include Jimmy Graham’s NFL career, too), Notre Dame was the better overall producer from about 2006-2013 and Iowa owns the crown over the last handful of years. How these schools attack the position group in recruiting and development moving forward makes this a topic we can revisit perhaps in 2025. But remember The Rock — perhaps the most famous former Hurricane — labeled Kittle “The People’s Tight End.” I rest my case.

Navarro: I’m just going to tell you why it’s not these other schools. Notre Dame’s one Pro Bowl tight end in the last two decades is Kyle Rudolph. Iowa could have a stronger case in the years to come if Hockenson or Fant becomes what Kittle has. But it’s The U, baby. And it’s not even close.

(Editor’s note: If you’re having trouble submitting the poll, it can also be accessed here.)

(Top photo of Jeremy Shockey: Harry How / Getty Images)




Monday, May 17, 2021

Joe Judge 'fully expects' Nate Ebner to return to Giants


Dan Benton 

Former New York Giants safety Nate Ebner, who became an unrestricted free agent in March, is currently training for a spot at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

In 2016, Ebner was a part of the opening ceremonies at the Games in Rio, representing the United States of America as part of the national rugby team. Rather than become a free agent this year, he returned to the national team.

“We are very excited to welcome Nate back into the pack,” U.S. coach Mike Friday in March. “He is not only a talented athlete, rugby player and Olympian, he is a durable individual who knows how to grind and is selfless for the cause.

“Nate is an authentic, good man who carries himself with humility, has a burning desire in his eyes to achieve and a passion to embed rugby and its values in the American sporting landscape. He is a Dawg, a Pioneer and will be up for the challenge as we look ahead to Tokyo.”

Whenever Ebner’s time in Tokyo ends, Giants head coach Joe Judge expects him to return to the team.

Judge expressed support for Ebner at the time of his decision, and also implied there was a possibility for a return down the line.

“We are proud to support Nate in his effort to earn a place on the United States National Rugby team,” Judge said. “This is the second time I have been with Nate while he tries to make the team to represent our country in the Olympics. We know that rugby has been an important part of Nate’s life since he was a young man, and Dave (Gettleman) and I both encouraged him to pursue this opportunity. Nate’s rugby training will keep him in great shape this offseason, and we will stay in touch with him as he goes through the process.”

In 16 games last season, Ebner recorded eight tackles and one pass defensed. The special teams captain was also given a 70.1 grade courtesy or Pro Football Focus (41.2 defensive grade).


Houston Texans Coach Culley Praises ‘Teacher’ Pep Hamilton


Pep Hamilton might be the biggest offseason asset for the Houston Texans entering the 2021 NFL season



23 HOURS AGO (May 16, 2021)


HOUSTON -- For the first time since being hired, David Culley this week has the chance to see players in action. The first-year head coach for the Houston Texans, Culley is finally able to see what direction the team is headed. 

Of course, the focal point of the Texans offseason will be the need at quarterback. Using the No. 67 pick on Stanford's Davis Mills, there's hope he can be the new face of the franchise in place as Deshaun Watson sits in limbo. 

A QB's progression can be enhanced with the help of a good quarterback coach. For the Texans, having a name like Pep Hamilton might be the biggest blessing after his work with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020. 

"He's been a good position coach for years in this business," Culley said Saturday. "He knows what he's doing. He knows about quarterback play. He's been one himself, he's done it his whole career. He's coordinated. He's been a quarterback coach.

"He's a heck of a teacher." 

Hamilton has a knack for working with young talent. Last season, the Chargers found its new franchise quarterback with Oregon's Justin Herbert. Throughout the season, it was Hamilton's guidance that helped set Herbert up for success. 

How successful was Herbert? He reset the rookie passing record in touchdowns and won the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

Hamilton isn't just a one-year wonder working with quarterbacks. In the 2010s, he served as the quarterback's coach for Stanford under David Shaw. His work with Andrew Luck helped the generational pocket-passer be the sure-fire No. 1 pick in 2012

A year after Bruce Arians made him a star, Luck reunited with Hamilton as the OC for the Indianapolis Colts. 

"If you go back and you look at all the guys he's coached through his coaching career, you can see the one thing that we loved about having Pep here is all of those guys he coached whether they were young guys or guys that have been in the league, they all got better and that's all you want out of your coaches is for them to get better and he's done that and we're hoping for the same thing." Culley said. 

Having an inside edge helps when looking at positions. Culley said that the connection between Shaw and Hamilton helped made the team feel comfortable with the selection of Mills. 

No one will know if Mills can actually play at the highest level, but the backing support of Hamilton helps when on the clock. 

"There's just a comfort level in knowing when you draft a guy like that and he's had some things happen to him during his career because of the Pac-12 with the COVID situation, we knew from David and from Pep and especially from David," Culley said. 

"We felt like he was a good fit and we're fortunate enough to get him."

Culley, 65, is a first-time head coach after spending 27 years as an NFL assistant. His work under names include Bill Cowher, Andy Reid, John Harbaugh and Sean McDermott —two of whom gave their seal of approval in the hiring of Culley.

Nothing else matters than landing the quarterback. Hamilton's experience with young names should be the best news for Mills as he looks to live up to the expectations at NRG Stadium

"He understands the passing game, because they do a very good job at it there at Stanford," Culley said of Mills. "He's been in a very good play-action, run-action type of pass game, which we have a history of doing here. He fit what our model was wanting to have a guy at that position."  

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Nate Ebner Shares Lessons Learned from Late Father, Journey from Ohio State to NFL and the Olympics in New Book “Finish Strong”


“This story was originally published on Eleven Warriors:”

By Dan Hope on May 11, 2021 at 8:35 am @dan_hope

Nate Ebner’s decision to write a book about his life was inspired by a coach he’s never actually played for.

Ebner’s final season at Ohio State was in 2011, which meant he exited the program just as Urban Meyer was taking over as the Buckeyes’ new head coach. Nonetheless, Ebner and Meyer bonded as Ebner returned to Ohio State to train during his NFL offseasons. And as Meyer learned more about Ebner’s life story, the then-Ohio State coach thought Ebner should share that story with the world. 

“To be quite honest, it wasn’t really something I was thinking I wanted to do or would do, but through the offseasons of going back to Ohio State and training, Urban and I crossed paths quite a few times and eventually, at one point after the Olympics, having an All-Pro year and winning the Super Bowl, Urban was like, ‘You need to write a book,’” Ebner recalled. “And I kind of laughed at it, but it was cool that he thought that. And then the following year, 2017, I was having a pretty good year but ended up tearing my ACL in November against the Dolphins, and when I had that time to think about what I wanted to do in that timeframe as I was rehabbing, I thought ‘This would be a good time to write that book Urban was suggesting I do.’”

That book, which includes a foreword from Meyer, was released on Tuesday. Titled “Finish Strong,” the book – which Ebner wrote with sportswriter Paul Daugherty – details Ebner’s journey from growing up playing rugby to joining the Ohio State football team as a walk-on, playing in the NFL and eventually returning to the rugby pitch to play in the Olympics

Above all else, “Finish Strong” is about Ebner’s relationship with his father Jeff, who was Ebner’s idol and best friend until he was murdered during a robbery attempt at his auto salvage yard in 2008.

Jeff Ebner never got to see his son play football for the Buckeyes – the attack happened just one day after Nate told his father he was going to walk on at Ohio State and pursue an NFL career – but the lessons Nate learned from his father have inspired everything he’s accomplished since, and that’s the biggest thing he hopes readers will take away from the book.

“I hope parents read this book,” Ebner told Eleven Warriors. “I think I had the greatest leader of all-time in my dad, and a lot of that book speaks to that relationship. I think there’s a lot of great talk about how to build strong relationships and a strong foundation with your children just through the experiences I talk about. There’s no special recipe; it’s just spending time with your children and giving them all the love that you have.”

Ebner also hopes “Finish Strong” inspires readers to chase after their dreams and appreciate the value of hard work. As Ebner details in the book, life as an Ohio State walk-on wasn’t easy, and few people believed his goal of playing in the NFL was actually realistic. Even once he made the team at Ohio State, he often felt overlooked in contrast to the team’s scholarship players. Yet by refusing to be outworked, Ebner emerged as a special teams standout for the Buckeyes and was ultimately selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.

“I hope when someone reads this, they realize I am a normal dude that was willing to work hard, and that allowed me to do great things and have great experiences because of the work I was willing to put in,” Ebner said. “I am a genuine believer that you can have whatever you want and do whatever you want if you’re willing to sacrifice everything. But you have to be willing to sacrifice everything. It needs to be the No. 1 ultimate priority, and if it is, and you’re really willing to give up everything in order to make that come true, you can make it happen.”

The book’s release comes as Ebner is training with the U.S. National Rugby Team with his sights set on playing in the Olympics again this summer. While Ebner chose to pursue a football career after realizing he wouldn’t be able to make a living playing rugby unless he moved overseas, his passion for the sport he grew up playing with his dad has never left, which is why he chose to return to the sport to play in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Returning to rugby after years away from the sport proved to be more difficult than Ebner anticipated the first time around, and he initially wasn’t sure whether he’d return for another Olympic run. Eventually, though, Ebner felt compelled to rejoin the team for another chance to compete for a medal and play the sport he loves most.

“Ultimately, I don’t know how much longer my NFL career’s going to be,” Ebner said. “This will be my 10th year in the league. And I’m sitting here thinking about ‘I don’t know how much longer I’m even going to play.’ If that’s the case, and I’ve only got a couple more years left of playing professional sports, I need to just empty the tank.

“What’s more important to me: A couple more years of playing football, or another shot at maybe getting a medal in the Olympics? I really reflected on that, and I think trying to win a medal is huge. I think when I reflect on the first Olympics in ‘16, or just really my entire athletic career, one of the things a bit out of my control that bothers me is people will come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, are you the guy that won a gold medal at the Olympics is rugby?’ And I’m like, ‘No. I didn’t win a gold medal.’ They don’t mean to taunt me or whatever. They just think that, right? And I know in my heart, I’m like, we didn’t medal. We should have medaled. And that doesn’t sit well with me. 

“And philosophically, it just kind of comes down to who I am as a person, what I’ve done my whole life. It’s kind of like ‘If I can, I must.’ And I think that’s kind of what led me there. There’s really not much else to think about. And I love playing rugby.”


Assuming Ebner makes the 12-man roster, he’ll head to Tokyo with the national team in July. Following the conclusion of the Olympic rugby sevens competition, which is scheduled for July 26-28, Ebner hopes to return to the New York Giants for his second year with the Giants and 10th NFL season overall. While Ebner is not currently under contract with the team, the Giants have said they fully support his effort to play in the Olympics, just as Bill Belichick and the Patriots did in 2016.

“If I have the year that I wish to have, it’s stay healthy, play through the Olympics and then have an opportunity to go back to the New York Giants and have a great football season,” Ebner said. “If everything were to go as planned, yeah, that’s how it would go.”

“Finish Strong” is now available in bookstores and to order online. More information about the book and where you can buy it can be found on the publisher's website.


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