Michigan Wolverines: James Ross

Five things: No. 15 Michigan-UConn

September, 21, 2013
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Devin Gardner said earlier this week that whenever a team plays badly, the week feels longer.

Well, he’ll have to wait a bit longer than usual as the Wolverines have the 8 p.m. primetime spot on Saturday night against UConn. Here’s what we’ll be watching for as Gardner and the Wolverines take the field one week removed from one of the most unimpressive performances under Brady Hoke in a 28-24 win over Akron:

Shake up in the secondary. Hoke is never fully committed to any one starter on the team. If a player practices poorly, he will not start. And if another guy steps up, he will play. That was on full display last weekend as James Ross -- who finished the day against Akron as the Wolverines’ leading tackler -- didn’t start because he had poor performances in practice. The secondary is a place we could see a few new faces this weekend. Courtney Avery has been limited because of arthroscopic surgery, but expect him to return and start in the secondary, possibly at corner across from Blake Countess. I think we’ll still see Jarrod Wilson and Thomas Gordon as the starting safeties, but Avery should see plenty of action on Saturday.

Devin Gardner’s response. He described his play against the Zips as possibly the worst of his career. The way he allowed mistakes to compile and compound has been well-documented, but he faces a new test this weekend: competing on a big stage after having struggled mightily the week before. In his eight starts, Gardner hasn’t quite faced adversity like that, and it’ll be interesting to see how and if he responds against UConn. He is a confident person and a skilled player, but we’ve now seen the good Gardner and the bad Gardner. We know the good is very good and the bad is very bad. Which one shows up on Saturday?

The defensive line getting pressure. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has vowed that this team will be able to send a four-man rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks. However, I also remember him saying that the past two seasons. Ever since Mike Martin and Ryan VanBergen left, it hasn’t really been the case. We’ll likely see the same starters and depth, as Mattison has liked his players, just not their productivity.

Michigan’s first test on the road. Michigan might be 17-0 at home under Hoke, but the Wolverines have struggled (read: crashed and burned) on the road, turning the ball over far more often than they ever do at home. Hoke didn’t really have any kind of explanation for it, but the Wolverines better figure out how to get their act together early and often, because the road isn’t going to get any kinder from here on out for Michigan.

Offensive line change ups. Akron tore apart Michigan’s offensive line. As a result, Gardner was a turnover king and the Wolverines never really got a run game (or any kind of momentum) going. Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have always said that the offensive line starters are written in pencil, not permanent marker. I think this week could be a time when we see some different faces in the lineup. Obviously, Taylor Lewan’s job at left tackle is secure (assuming he plays despite not practicing at times this week), and I think the same is true for right tackle Michael Schofield and right guard Kyle Kalis. The interesting spots will be center and left guard. I believe we’ll see the same starting lineup against UConn, but don’t be too surprised if Graham Glasgow moved to center and Chris Bryant took some major snaps at left guard as the Wolverines try out a few new line options.

Fresh Ideas: Linebackers 

July, 5, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier at one position than another? Over the summer WolverineNation has been breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position by position.

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison will experiment with different combinations at linebacker, which means some freshmen will be in the mix.
What it takes for a true freshman linebacker to play: The linebacker position seems to be a spot in which a true freshman can come in and contribute immediately. With the right combination of physicality, smarts and intensity, a freshman can rely on instinct and his foundation to make an impact on the field. That’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do, especially with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wanting his linebackers to be more and more physical, but with more advanced strength and conditioning programs in high schools across the country (as well as several prospects working with individual trainers), the physical hurdle -- which used to be one of the highest -- now seems much more manageable.

Region Series Quick Hits: Midwest 

June, 11, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Quick Hits is a look at the must-know facts for each region in regard to Michigan and its football recruiting efforts. It will give you an idea of the Wolverines’ history in that region, as well as what one can expect from that region over the next few seasons.

MIDWEST

1. How many players on Michigan’s roster are from the region?


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Michigan linebacker depth 

May, 14, 2013
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The injury to Jake Ryan affected a few positions along Michigan’s depth chart at linebacker, such as moving Brennen Beyer from defensive end, Desmond Morgan back to MIKE from WILL.

Michigan still has some needs that are being addressed in recruiting, so here is a look at the current depth chart with the strengths, weaknesses and what they mean in terms of recruiting.


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WolverineNation Roundtable 

April, 11, 2013
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Spike AlbrechtAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesSpike Albrecht's first half for the ages Monday is a pleasant memory that will stick with Michigan fans despite the loss to Louisville in the national title game.
Every Thursday our writers sit down to chat about three topics surrounding Michigan sports. This week, they take a look at the past national title game, the ensuing spring game and the 2014 recruiting class.

1) What will you remember most about the Michigan-Louisville game?


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Linebacker Jake Ryan was supposed to be the brightest spot of the Wolverines defense next year. A season removed from being Michigan’s leading tackler, the expectations were high -- Michigan’s MVP? Big Ten defensive player of the year? All-American?

But those hopes were dashed when he tore his ACL just a few games into spring practice.

Now, the Wolverines have to look to rotate in other players with less experience or playmaking abilities, and by the sounds of it, two names have jumped to the forefront of the conversation -- Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer.

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Michigan has suffered a huge setback early in spring practice, as the team announced Wednesday that junior linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL during Tuesday's practice.

Ryan is the team's top returning defensive player, having led the Wolverines last year with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. We named him to our 2012 All-Big Ten team and rated him No. 17 in our Big Ten postseason player rankings.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIJake Ryan's knee injury leaves a hole in the Michigan defense that will be difficult to fill.
Michigan officials said Ryan is out "indefinitely." If there's any bright side to this injury, it's that it happened on March 19. Typical recovery time for torn ACLs is generally said to be between six to nine months. We don't know how severe Ryan's injury is -- whether it's a complete or partial tear, for instance, or whether there's damage to other ligaments -- but if he were to meet the most optimistic side of that recovery timetable, then he could still come back and play for the Wolverines by midseason. But again, that's if everything goes perfectly.

There have been success stories of athletes recovering quickly from torn ACLs. The most notable one is Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season after suffering his ACL tear on Christmas Eve 2011.

"I know he will attack his rehabilitation just like he does everything else and will be back when he's ready," head coach Brady Hoke said in a statement.

Linebacker also looks to be Michigan's deepest position. Hoke told ESPN.com last week before Ryan's injury that "we feel a little stronger at that position" and that he expected great competition. Desmond Morgan, who started at weak side linebacker last year, had been working out at the middle linebacker spot to allow him and rising star James Ross to play at the same time. The Wolverines also have sophomores Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone, senior Mike Jones and incoming freshmen Mike McCray II and Ben Gedeon to compete for snaps.

However, most of those guys -- with the exception of McCray -- profile more as middle or weak side linebackers, and lack the size to play the strong side spot that Ryan occupied. That puts more pressure on senior Cam Gordon -- Ryan's backup -- to play a bigger role. Gordon has appeared in 33 career games, and Hoke praised his winter workout efforts in his interview with ESPN.com last year. But Gordon has yet to show that he can be a star or a major disruptive force the way Ryan has been. Make no mistake about it: this is a big, big loss for Greg Mattison's defense.

The Wolverines have plenty of time to figure out some answers, but it remains to be seen if they can find anyone to fill the playmaking shoes of Ryan. It's the first real negative of the offseason for Michigan, which got great news when Taylor Lewan returned, when Devin Gardner got his extra year of eligibility, and of course on signing day.

Time will tell how well the team will fill in for Ryan, or whether he can return at all for 2013. But until then, the guy with the flowing golden locks and penchant for making impact plays will be sorely missed.
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.
Michigan football coach Brady Hoke met with the media Wednesday afternoon for the final time before the Notre Dame game Saturday. Here are a few quick notes from the press conference:

INJURIES
Out: Brandon Moore (MCL)

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2014 LB gets boost from rugby 

September, 13, 2012
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Linebacker Dylan Weigel (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington North) led his team in tackles as a sophomore and intends to do the same this season.

But what he attributes much of his success to on the football field is picking up another sport off it -- one that increases intensity but decreases padding: rugby.

"Rugby just made me a lot more physical," Weigel said. "I just love contact sports. It's similar to football, but you're going to get beat up. You're going to get scratches on your face and stuff, but if you hit right you'll be OK."

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Notebook: O-line shuffles

September, 2, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- All fall, fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer said he was competing to win the job at left guard. But even then, there were hints of something else in his future.

On Saturday in the season opener, in the first start of his career, Mealer played not at left guard, but as Michigan’s starting center.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson and Alabama's defense
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesRicky Barnum, trying to help Denard Robinson, istarted at left guard instead of center.
Ricky Barnum, thought to be Michigan’s starting center, ended up playing left guard.

“They had been both playing a lot of center, a lot of guard,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Just felt some of the shotgun stuff with Elliott was a little better.”

Both ended up being integral parts of the offensive line.

Also, Michigan showed how it would adjust due to injury after left tackle Taylor Lewan left the game in the fourth quarter. If Lewan misses any time, right tackle Michael Schofield will move to left tackle, right guard Patrick Omameh will move to right tackle and Joey Burzynski will come in at right guard.

Injury concerns: Michigan saw two of its best players leave Saturday’s game due to injury, cornerback Blake Countess and Lewan.

Lewan, who was injured in the fourth quarter with the game no longer in doubt, could barely walk to the locker room after the game, limping badly on his right leg and eventually needing help from a staffer to reach the locker room.

Countess was injured on punt coverage in the first quarter and was seen after the game leaving the field on crutches.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke had no update on either player after the game.

Freshmen in action: The Wolverines knew they were going to use a lot of first-year players against Alabama. Depth and the overall talent level of the class they recruited necessitated it.

But if Saturday is any indication, expect to see a large youth movement at Michigan this season. At least 10 freshmen received some playing time -- linebackers Royce Jenkins-Stone, James Ross III and Joe Bolden, defensive linemen Mario Ojemudia and Ondre Pipkins, safety Jarrod Wilson, cornerback Terry Richardson, tight end A.J. Williams and running back Dennis Norfleet.

Of the 10, Norfleet and Ross III had the most significant roles. Ross III played often during base defensive packages for Michigan and made two assisted tackles. Norfleet was one of the bright spots for the Wolverines, gaining 177 yards on eight kick returns.

This and that: Josh Furman, who was named a starting kick returner on Monday and is a special teams standout for the Wolverines, did not make the trip to Arlington. When asked for a reason, Hoke just said, “He didn’t make the trip.” ... Michigan had two honorary captains for the game, former wide receiver Desmond Howard and former coach Gary Moeller. ... Michigan also had Russell Bellomy, not Devin Gardner, as its primary backup quarterback. Gardner, however, started at wide receiver.
The "Inside the Game" position preview series continues with the crux of any defense -- and long a position with a lot of lineage at both Michigan and Ohio State: Linebackers.

BuckeyeNation’s Austin Ward and WolverineNation’s Michael Rothstein take a look at the men in the middle of both defenses.


Michigan
Rothstein:
Michigan’s linebackers can rejoice. For the first time since any of them has been a Wolverine, they will play in essentially the same defensive scheme with the same defensive coordinator for the second season in a row.

And if you think that doesn’t make a difference, you’re kidding yourself. Even defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said as much, that having the players learning the same system for the second year allows for a faster refresher course along with more advanced teaching. And for the linebackers more than any other defensive position group, this is critical.

Michigan has the bulk of its main playmakers at the position back, including fifth-year senior Kenny Demens in the middle along with sophomores Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan on the outside.

Demens is Michigan’s leading returning tackler with 94 last season, including three sacks. Morgan, as a freshman, was fifth in tackles with 63. At linebacker, that kind of production is expected.

That starting group, though, will be pushed. Junior Cam Gordon is fighting with Ryan for time, as is senior Brandin Hawthorne behind Morgan. Also involved are a gaggle of talented freshmen, including James Ross III, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Kaleb Ringer and Joe Bolden, who enrolled last spring and could see a lot of time his freshman season.

Still, though, it is a young group with a lot of room to grow and likely won’t see its true potential for another season or two.

Ohio State
Ward:
There may not be a linebacker with the name recognition of the Ohio State legends that have come before them.

By its own admission, the current group of Buckeyes didn’t live up to the expectations established by those predecessors.

But even without a Hawk or Laurinaitis this fall, the middle of the defense should be much improved even if there isn’t any established star on the roster during training camp.

Perhaps by the time the Buckeyes take on their rivals at the end of the season, though, sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant could make themselves a lot more familiar to folks around the Big Ten. Shazier in particular began building some buzz for himself during a three-game tackling barrage when he was inserted into the starting lineup due to injury last season and responded with 30 takedowns.

Now Shazier appears to have a more permanent spot in the rotation, and along with Grant and senior Etienne Sabino they should give defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell a solid foundation to start with. While there isn’t much experience in reserve to work with right now, the Buckeyes loaded up with five talented signees in February who will ultimately be charged with restoring the program’s proud defensive tradition.

There probably won’t be as much pressure to do it right away with arguably the best line in the nation in front and a skilled, veteran secondary behind them. But they should be able to get things back on track either way.

Entrance Interview: James Ross 

June, 18, 2012
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Entrance Interview is a series at WolverineNation -- similar to our Exit Interview series -- where we chat with incoming Michigan football and men's basketball players about their thoughts as they start college, what their expectations are, and what they'll miss most about high school.

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- James Ross (Orchard Lake, Mich./Saint Mary’s) is a teenager built like a man, muscle put together on top of muscle with baby fat all but eliminated. One of the players signed by Michigan in the Class of 2012, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker looks more like a 25-year-old who has spent a decade building his body instead of a high school student transitioning to college.

But Ross is about to be a freshman for the final time in his life later this month when he matriculates at Michigan. WolverineNation caught up with him at the Sound Mind Sound Body Academy to chat about his competitive streak, life with family, advice for his little brother and his love of the ladder.

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WolverineNation mailbag 

May, 23, 2012
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Keshawn MartinMike Carter/US PresswireMichigan opening the B1G season with Michigan State in 2015 and 2016 raises eyebrows.
Just when we thought sporting excitement would be over for Michigan fans until September, the softball teams goes and upsets No. 9 Louisville and advances to the NCAA Super Regional.

We didn't get any softball questions this week, but if you have some lingering thoughts on the season, please send them in next week because we love hearing from our readers!

Mike will be taking care of next week's mailbag so email (michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com) or tweet (@mikerothstein) your questions to him! But now, on to this week's questions…

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Joe BoldenMiller Safrit/ESPN.comEarly enrollee linebacker Joe Bolden could be the starter at the Mike position in 2014.
It’s always fun to look into the future and guess where players will be after the next few seasons. So Tom and Chantel decided to sit down and do their best to produce the depth chart for the beginning of the 2014 season. They aren’t coaches, nor are they scouts, but this is an educated guess at what could happen over the next few seasons. View the offensive depth chart here.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART:

WDE:

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