Florida Gators: Tagging the Gators

Marcus RobersonKim Klement/US PresswireGators cornerback Marcus Roberson (5) often huddles up the team before games.
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at CB Marcus Roberson.

CB Marcus Roberson
Sophomore
20 tackles, 2 INTs, 12 pass breakups, 1 sack

Tagging the Gators: P Kyle Christy

December, 31, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at P Kyle Christy.

P Kyle Christy
Sophomore
46.1 yard average, 25 punts of 50 or more yards

[+] EnlargeKyle Christy
Kim Klement/US PresswireUF sophomore punter Kyle Christy had a 46.1-yard average and was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award.
Role in 2012: Christy won the job in the second half of the 2011 season and continued his development in 2012. He turned out to be a vital part of UF’s turnaround.

The good: Because of the offensive limitations, coach Will Muschamp leaned on Christy as a field position weapon. Christy flipped the field again and again, putting 26 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line. He came up big and big games, too: he averaged 49.1 yards on seven punts and put three inside the 10-yard line against LSU and averaged 54.3 yards on seven punts against South Carolina. He is currently sixth nationally in average per punt, and if that holds through the Sugar Bowl, it would be a UF single-season record. He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which annually goes to the nation’s top punter.

The bad: There’s really not much to say here. He did have one punt blocked, but that was because of a breakdown in the protection by DT Omar Hunter. Christy worked pretty hard between the 2011 and 2012 seasons on his mechanics and speeding up his timing. He’ll continue to try and improve there.

Crystal ball: Christy has two more years to play and appears on his way to becoming one of the best punters in Southeastern Conference history. It’s kind of amazing the run of punters the Gators have had since 2003: Eric Wilbur (2003-06), Chas Henry (2007-10) and now Christy. He fits in with the way Muschamp wants to build his program: run the ball, play field position, win with defense.

Tagging the Gators: RB Chris Johnson

December, 30, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at RB Chris Johnson.

RB Chris Johnson
Sophomore
5 carries for 35 yards; 11 tackles, 1 fumble recovery

Chris Johnson
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida's Chris Johnson (32) made an impact on special teams.
Role in 2012: Johnson made little impact offensively, but he was a special-teams standout who led the Gators with 11 tackles on special teams.

The good: The 5-foot-9, 202-pound Johnson has a knack for knifing through kickoff and punt coverage and making the tackle. Not only does he lead the team in special teams tackles, he leads them in solo stops on special teams as well (five). He also was in the right spot at the right time to help deliver one of the most important plays of the season. His fumble recovery on a kickoff set the Gators up inside the South Carolina 15-yard line and led to a touchdown and 21-3 first-half lead.

The bad: Johnson needs some stability. He’s played three positions since signing with Florida in 2011. He started out as a safety and was playing linebacker when UF coach Will Muschamp asked him to move to running back this past spring. But it doesn’t look like he’ll get to be a significant contributor on offense because the Gators bring in two high-profile recruits in Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Matt Jones enters the offseason as the starter.

Crystal ball: Johnson will likely make his biggest impact on special teams in 2013 and beyond. There’s too much talent at running back, including Trey Burton, for him to get many touches. But there are worse things than being a special-teams standout, especially for a Muschamp-coached team. The Gators’ special teams are among the best in the nation and Johnson will eventually end up being a captain of the unit.
Dante Fowler Jr.Gerry Melendez/Getty Images
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at buck linebacker Dante Fowler.

Buck Dante Fowler
Freshman
27 tackles, 2.5 sacks

Role in 2012: Fowler benefitted from injuries to other players and got a lot of reps with the first team during fall camp. He quickly showed he deserved to play and figured heavily into the rotation.

The good: Fowler has very good speed and quickness for someone his size (6-foot-3, 277 pounds) and he also is a high-motor, relentless player. He’s not bad against the run, either, but his strength is rushing the passer. His 7.0 tackles for loss ranked third on the team behind DT Sharrif Floyd (11.0) and S Matt Elam (10.0). Fowler is one of several young players whom defensive coordinator Dan Quinn singled out as improving during bowl practices. He could be the next Loucheiz Purifoy -- a player who showed marked improvement in bowl practices and followed that up by becoming one of the Gators’ better playmakers the following season.

The bad: Showing up significantly heavier than he was on signing day raised some flags about Fowler's offseason work ethic. It’s unlikely that he’ll have the same problem this offseason because he’ll be on campus and working with strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman. He does need to drop some weight and get in better shape. Like all young players, Fowler is a bit raw fundamentally and relies more on his athleticism and strength. He needs to refine his technique and spend some extra time with defensive line coach Bryant Young.

Crystal ball: Ronald Powell will return from a torn ACL next season and regain his starting job, but Fowler will be on the field a lot. If Powell doesn’t play at the level he did before his injury, then don’t be surprised to see Fowler in the starting lineup. He’s big enough that the Gators could move him to defensive end, too. Either way, UF should be much better rushing the passer in 2013, and Fowler will be a key part of that.
Solomon PattonGreg McWilliams/Icon SMI
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at WR Solomon Patton.

WR Solomon Patton
Junior
14 carries for 140 yards; one catch for 17 yards

Role in 2012: Patton was rarely involved in the passing game, but he was used as the primary ball carrier on jet sweeps until his season-ending injury against Georgia.

The good: The coaching staff was looking for a way to take advantage of Patton’s speed and found it by using him on jet sweeps, which is the play that former Gators standout Percy Harvin ran so effectively. Patton isn’t as fast as Harvin, but he is a shifty runner who is quick enough to get the edge. He’s also got an unusual benefit: his lack of size. At 5-foot-9, 169 pounds, Patton sometimes get lost behind the offensive linemen, and that confusion can freeze defenders for a split second.

The bad: His size also was a concern because he was taking quite a beating on those jet sweeps. He is giving up 70 or more pounds to linebackers and he took some pretty hard hits at the end of his runs. It didn’t catch up to him until the Georgia game, when he suffered a broken arm when he landed awkwardly after being tackled up high near the sideline.

Crystal ball: Patton should be fine for spring practice. He’ll likely continue as the Gators’ main ball carrier on the jet sweep in 2013, but the Gators might need more from him than that. The receiver position is still a question mark, even with the expected addition of four signees. Somebody has to emerge as a consistent receiver to complement Quinton Dunbar. Patton has more experience than any other returning receiver, so he’ll get the first shot.
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at LB Michael Taylor.

LB Michael Taylor
Redshirt sophomore
29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 QB hurry, 1 pass breakup

[+] EnlargeSpencer Ware
Kim Klement/US PresswireGators linebacker Michael Taylor (51) provided solid depth in 2012. Can he step forward as a starter next season?
Role in 2012: Taylor backed up starting MLB Jon Bostic but got significant playing time. He started the LSU game in place of WLB Jelani Jenkins, who was still dealing with a thumb injury.

The good: Taylor is another physical player who is a bit undersized (6-foot, 226 pounds), but he gets the job done. He’s best against the run. He’s able to weave his way through blockers to get to the ball carrier and also does a solid job of getting off blocks. Taylor capably filled in for Jenkins and made a season-high five tackles against LSU.

The bad: Taylor struggles in pass coverage. He’s not fast enough to run with most tight ends down the field and has trouble staying with tight ends and backs on short routes over the middle or in the flat. The coaching staff took him out on obvious passing situations and subbed in Antonio Morrison. Not being an every-down linebacker will hurt him as he tries to crack the starting lineup with Bostic graduating.

Crystal ball: Taylor is able to play all three linebacker spots, but not being good in coverage limits his effectiveness. It’s likely that he’ll remain a backup and spot starter in 2013, especially if Morrison is able to add enough bulk to play in the middle. If that’s the case, then Taylor will likely end up at strongside linebacker and be the one who goes off the field when the Gators are in nickel.

Tagging the Gators: K Caleb Sturgis

December, 26, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at K Caleb Sturgis.

K Caleb Sturgis
Redshirt senior
23-for-27 field goals; 32-for-33 PATs; 101 points

[+] EnlargeCaleb Sturgis
Rob Foldy/Icon SMIPlace-kicker Caleb Sturgis' 69 career field goals are a University of Florida record.
Role in 2012: Sturgis had the best season of his career and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top kicker.

The good: Sturgis’ 23 field goals tied Bobby Raymond’s single-season record and his 69 career field goals are a school record. He already holds the school record with eight field goals of 50 or more yards. He affected the way offensive coordinator Brent Pease called plays because once the Gators got to the 35-yard line they were in Sturgis’ range, so Pease would get a little more conservative to make sure they didn’t lose an almost sure chance for three points.

The bad: What can you find wrong with the greatest kicker in school history? He probably worked out too much early in his career, which was a factor in the back injury that cost him the final nine games of the 2010 season. He has backed off a bit and works out enough to maintain his strength and flexibility.

Crystal ball: Sturgis is Mel Kiper, Jr.’s, second-ranked kicker behind Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins. He’ll be drafted and should have a long career in the NFL. He’s very accurate (79.3 percent in his career and 85 percent his final two seasons) and his strong leg will allow him to be effective in bad weather. If he lands with a dome team he could become a consistent long-range weapon the way he was at Florida.
Antonio MorrisonCourtesy of UF Communications
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at LB Antonio Morrison.

LB Antonio Morrison
Freshman
31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry, 1 forced fumble

Role in 2012: Morrison enrolled in January and was impressive enough to earn time on special teams and be the primary backup for WLB Jelani Jenkins. He made two starts because of injuries.

The good: Morrison isn’t that big (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) but he is a hitter. UF coach Will Muschamp called him a "violent, physical football player," and there’s no better evidence than what Morrison did to Florida State QB EJ Manuel. He hammered the 6-5, 240-pound Manuel and caused a fumble, a play that proved to be the turning point in the Gators’ victory and one of the key plays of the entire season. Morrison has pretty good football IQ, too, or the staff wouldn’t have trusted him to make those two starts as well as start against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

The bad: While it’s a good story that Morrison is such a big hitter despite his size, he’s got to get bigger and stronger. He won’t be able to last an entire season in the SEC at linebacker if he doesn’t add some bulk. Another offseason with strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman will help, but if he’s one of those guys who just can’t gain weight, he could eventually end up moving to safety.

Crystal ball: Morrison will be starting somewhere next season. It looks like Jenkins will return for his senior season, so Morrison might move to strongside linebacker or possibly even middle linebacker, although he would certainly be undersized there unless he puts on about 20 pounds. Regardless of where he plays, the bottom line is that he has to be on the field somewhere. He’s too talented to be on the sideline, playing as a reserve or mainly on special teams.

Tagging the Gators: FB Hunter Joyer

December, 24, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at FB Hunter Joyer.

FB Hunter Joyer
Sophomore
UF is averaging 194.5 yards per game rushing; 2 carries for 1 yard; 4 catches for 17 yards

Hunter Joyer
Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/Getty ImagesSophomore Hunter Joyer has excelled as the Gators' lead blocker.
Role in 2012: Joyer was the Gators’ primary blocker in the running game and he helped RB Mike Gillislee become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

The good: Joyer is the prototypical fullback -- he’s 5-feet-10 and 249 pounds and he’s completely selfless. Though he was a pretty good ball carrier in high school, he has no trouble being a blocker who rarely touches the ball. He’s also the Gators’ strongest player -- he bench pressed 445 pounds in high school and now squats more than 550 pounds. That’s why he has no trouble moving linebackers out of the hole and knocking down defensive ends.

The bad: It’s not Joyer’s fault, but he could be more than just a blocker in the offense, especially in the passing game. With Gillislee and Matt Jones, he’s not going to get many carries, and he is too valuable a blocker to carry the ball on short-yardage plays. He’s got good hands, so he could be used more as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He’d be a nightmare for a defensive back to try and tackle. UF struggled to make plays in the passing game but did have success with short passes and passes in the flats.

Crystal ball: Joyer will be clearing holes for two more years, and he’ll be getting plenty of work with the infusion of talent in the backfield. Joining Jones will be recruits Kelvin Taylor (who is scheduled to enroll in January) and Adam Lane, giving the Gators three big-time backs and the opportunity to finally become the power-run team that coach Will Muschamp envisions. There’s no bigger part of that than Joyer.

Tagging the Gators: G Jon Halapio

December, 23, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at G Jon Halapio.

G Jon Halapio
Redshirt junior
UF is averaging 194.5 yards per game rushing, 338.4 yards per game total offense, and has given up 36 sacks

[+] EnlargeJon Halapio
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGuard Jon Halapio has been UF's most consistent lineman for two seasons.
Role in 2012: Halapio has been a mainstay at right guard and has started 27 consecutive games dating back to the final two games of the 2010 season.

The good: Halapio earned the team’s Scrap Iron award (given for blocking and toughness) eight times this season, more than any other player. That speaks to his consistency since he finally cracked the starting lineup for good at the end of 2010. The 6-foot-3, 321-pound Halapio is a very good run blocker and was a big piece of the Gators’ transition from the perimeter run game to the between-the-tackles style that coach Will Muschamp wants. He helped RB Mike Gillislee become the Gators’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

The bad: Halapio, like C Jonotthan Harrison and LG James Wilson, has at times had trouble in pass protection. The Gators have been hurt by delayed blitzes or overloads up the middle. UF quarterbacks have been sacked 36 times this season, and while all that blame doesn’t belong to the offensive line, a good portion of it does. This group is much better than it was in 2011, but it has to improve for the offense to flourish in 2013.

Crystal ball: Halapio will again anchor the offensive line in 2013. He and Harrison might be the only players from 2012 who will be in the same spot in ’13. UF will have a new left side and it’s possible that RT Chaz Green will get beaten out by Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore. The offense can’t be as one-dimensional as it was this season, and the passing game has to make strides. The pass protection has to improve to help QB Jeff Driskel’s development.
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at DE Jonathan Bullard.

DE Jonathan Bullard
Freshman
26 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7 QB hurries

Role in 2012: Bullard earned playing time as a reserve defensive end and improved throughout the season. By November, he was one of Florida’s most consistent pass rushers.

The good: It’s hard for a freshman to play on the defensive line in the SEC, but Bullard was on the field right away. He naturally started slowly but gradually improved and ended up leading the team in QB hurries. The 6-foot-3, 271-pound Bullard has good quickness and power and gave experienced SEC offensive tackles some trouble. He had seven tackles against Vanderbilt and recorded three tackles and 1.5 sacks against Missouri. Bullard also was solid against the run.

The bad: He’s pretty raw as a pass rusher and relied on his strength and athleticism to get to the quarterback. Sometimes that resulted in him being out of position or unable to make a play. It’s the normal problems that all freshmen face as they try and adjust to the higher level of competition. Bullard needs to refine his technique and get stronger and in better shape.

Crystal ball: He enrolled in the fall so this will be his first experience with the offseason conditioning program. That should take care of his strength and conditioning. Working in the spring with defensive line coach Bryant Young should take care of the technique issue. That sets Bullard up to be the starter at end in 2013 -- and potentially become the big-time pass rusher the Gators have lacked since 2009.

Tagging the Gators: RB Matt Jones

December, 21, 2012
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Matt JonesAP Photo/Wade Payne
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at RB Matt Jones.

RB Matt Jones
Freshman
49 carries for 259 yards and 2 TDs; 3 catches for 10 yards


Role in 2012: After a somewhat slow start, Jones emerged as the top backup to Mike Gillislee. He is third on the team in carries and rushing yards and finished the regular season by setting career highs in back-to-back games.

The good: The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones is built like a power runner, but he didn’t start the season playing that way. He was tentative and danced a bit in the backfield before hitting the hole. That changed after a chat with coach Will Muschamp, and Jones started hitting the hole aggressively and decisively. He played his best football in November, rushing for 65 yards against Jacksonville State and 81 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. With Gillislee on the sideline with sore ribs, Jones iced the victory over the Seminoles with a 32-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

The bad: Despite his size, Jones isn’t a great short-yardage back ... yet. It was much easier for him in high school, but gaining a yard or two to convert a first down in the SEC is a little tougher. It’s a pad-level and leg-drive issue, and Jones will eventually get it fixed.

Crystal ball: Gillislee’s final game will be the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Jones will enter spring practices as the top tailback. Mack Brown and Chris Johnson will be the only other experienced backs. Recruit Kelvin Taylor is expected to enroll in January and participate in spring practice, but Jones’ experience in the system should enable him to enter fall as the starter. Recruit Adam Lane gets added to the mix then as well, but Jones likely will be the opening day starter.

Tagging the Gators: NT Omar Hunter

December, 20, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at NT Omar Hunter.

NT Omar Hunter
Redshirt senior
39 tackles, 4 pass breakups

[+] EnlargeOmar Hunter
Kim Klement/US PresswireOmar Hunter has had a significant impact on Florida's resurgence this season.
Role in 2012: Hunter started every game this season in the middle of UF’s defensive line and anchored a rush defense that gave up just 97 yards per game.

The good: Hunter flourished under defensive line coach Bryant Young and played his best football this season. He attributed that in part to being in the best shape of his career but it was also because he stayed healthy, which is something he didn’t do in his first several seasons. The 6-foot, 313-pound Hunter plugged the middle and occupied double-teams, and he also used his hands well to get off blocks and set a career-high in tackles. He showed a knack for knocking down passes, too.

The bad: The staff would have liked to have seen a bit more of a pass-rush presence out of Hunter. Not necessarily recording sacks, but pushing the middle of the pocket back into the quarterback’s face. But he was in the game as a run-plugger and he did his job well and allowed the linebackers to make plays. He’s not especially quick and although he has made strides in the weight room, he can still get stronger.

Crystal ball: Spending two seasons under Young and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who spent 10 years as an NFL coach before coming to Florida, has been a huge benefit for Hunter in terms of getting ready to play at the next level -- especially Young, who was recently nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hunter has a history of back issues, which is a concern and part of the reason why he projects as a late-round pick.
Jonotthan HarrisonMark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDurable lineman Jonotthan Harrison started every game this season.
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today, we’ll look at C Jonotthan Harrison.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Redshirt junior

Role in 2012: Harrison started every game at center this season despite suffering an elbow injury against Vanderbilt. Harrison started every game at either guard or center in 2011. UF is averaging 194.5 yards per game rushing, 338.4 yards per game of total offense and has given up 36 sacks.

The good: Harrison is the definition of durability. He has started 26 consecutive games dating to the 2011 Outback Bowl against Penn State. He played the season’s final six games with a brace on his arm after suffering a sprained elbow against the Commodores. He has had very little trouble with shotgun snaps, which is something that plagued Mike Pouncey at the beginning of his first season as the starting center. Harrison is a physical player with good size (6-foot-3, 309 pounds) and is a solid run-blocker.

The bad: Harrison sometimes has trouble in pass protection. The Gators have been hurt by delayed blitzes or overloads up the middle. As the center, Harrison has the responsibility for picking up those blitzers, whether he’s free already or if he has to come off a double-team block. UF quarterbacks have been sacked 36 times this season, and while all that blame doesn’t belong to the offensive line, a good portion of it does.

Crystal ball: Harrison should return as the starter in 2013. He’s really the only experienced center on the roster, although Kyle Koehne has worked at the spot as well as guard and tackle. He’ll have to deal with a whole new left side because left guard James Wilson and left tackle Xavier Nixon graduate, but the offensive line should be better and deeper than it was this season.
Dominique EasleyKim Klement/US Presswire
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at DE Dominique Easley.

DE Dominique Easley
Junior
21 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries, one fumble recovery

Role in 2012: Easley spent his first two seasons at Florida at defensive tackle, but he was moved outside this season. It was designed to boost the pass rush, and Easley’s sacks went up.

The good: Easley is a natural defensive end and the move outside helped him nearly triple his sacks from 2011 (1.5). He came back from a torn left ACL suffered in November 2011 to start all 10 games in which he played. His biggest asset is his quickness and his first step, but he’s got decent power to go along with that, too. He’s also got an added dose of nastiness, and the team feeds off his energy.

The bad: Easley has the potential to be a dominant pass-rushing defensive end, but there were games where he was no factor. The consistency wasn’t there. A big reason is the ACL injury. It usually takes more than one season for a player to be completely back, especially at a position like end that puts a lot of pressure on the knees. He had a problem with his right knee this season, missing two games because of swelling.

Crystal ball: Though he’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-2, Easley is an intriguing NFL prospect because of his speed and quickness. Defensive end is a premium position, so his value is pretty high, which means Easley has to decide if he wants to leave for the NFL a year early or return for his senior season. He’s likely no worse than a fourth-round pick right now. Easley’s draft stock would likely be higher next season another year away from the ACL injury, but he recently had a son, so that could be a big factor in the decision.

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