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College football week three draft notes

Monday, September 18th, 2017

— San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny is a player to start paying attention to. Listed at 5-11 and 220lbs, he’s right in the ball park for Seattle’s size preference at the position. In three games this year he has 588 rushing yards (8.3 YPC) and four touchdowns. He had a 95-yard run against Arizona State where he accelerated away from the defense showing unique speed and he later added a 99-yard kick return score. He’s one touchdown away from tying the NCAA record for return touchdowns (he currently has six). Against Stanford on Saturday he managed 175 rushing yards and a further 31 in the passing game. A true all-rounder with great speed, thickness and athleticism — he’s a Senior running back to watch for the rest of 2017.

— It’s good to see Georgia’s Nick Chubb back on form. He wasn’t himself in 2016 after returning from a shocking knee injury. Against Samford on Saturday he had 131 rushing yards (8.2 YPC) and two scores. He has 290 yards after three games and four touchdowns. A truly exceptional athlete in High School, Chubb will be an interesting tester at the combine next year.

— We highlighted Kamryn Pettway before the season. He wasn’t helped by Auburn’s O-line and passing game against Clemson but still managed 74 hard earned yards. He had 128 yards and three touchdowns against Mercer on Saturday. A big power back with surprising shiftiness in the open field, he adds to a relatively deep looking group of 2018 running backs.

— Without doubt the top back for next year will be Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. A genuine top-10 talent, you can build an offense around this guy. He is exceptional. His athleticism, toughness, dedication in the weight room and attitude are top notch. He might even go top-five like Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. Barkley is one of the biggest freak of nature players in recent memory, possibly comparable to Myles Garrett’s freakiness. Here’s what he did against Georgia State on Saturday:

— Pete Carroll mentioned on ESPN 710 this morning that the Seahawks compile ‘effort’ grades for the players after a game. I’m guessing Carroll would’ve enjoyed this play by Florida sophomore Jachai Polite vs Tennessee:

— In terms of the quarterbacks this weekend, it was a weird one. Lamar Jackson came out cold against Clemson and the game quickly got away from Louisville. Jackson showed his usual creativity to make some big plays with his arm and running the ball but he also had a pick six. His receivers also dropped several catchable passes. This shouldn’t have a huge impact on his blossoming stock but it is a missed opportunity to push himself closer to Sam Darnold. The Clemson game was also another example of why defense wins you a Championship. The Tigers’ D-line is sensational, led by future top-15 picks Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. It’s a loaded defensive front with future NFL studs. Just like they did against Auburn, they controlled the game here. Lawrence isn’t eligible to enter the 2017 draft but Wilkins (2.5 sacks in three games) will be a very early pick.

— Sam Darnold really has to be considered QB1 for this 2018 draft class. The way he led the USC team against Texas was exemplary. He’s accurate, mobile, creative, he improvises. There is so much to like and it’s virtually impossible to make a case for any other quarterback being ahead of him at this stage. He looks like the #1 overall pick next year. Look at these plays:

— UCLA’s Josh Rosen had a hit and miss day as the Bruins lost against Memphis. He had some terrific downfield plays that had social media buzzing for a while. Yet he also saw his luck run out on the ‘hit and hope’ type throws that came off against Texas A&M. The pick below is simply horrendous. Rosen’s clearly a playmaker (he currently leads the NCAA in passing yards). He’s a talented quarterback and should find a home early in the draft — but he can’t make mistakes like this at the next level:

— Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield staked his claim in beating Ohio State last week. This week Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald highlighted his first round potential. A big bodied, highly athletic quarterback, Fitzgerald led the Bulldogs to a huge 37-7 win against LSU with a measured four-touchdown performance. He avoids mistakes, makes big plays on the ground (see below) and so far in 2017 has 12 total scores and just one interception.

— Josh Allen came into the year as the trendy suggestion to go #1 overall in 2017. After a disappointing opening week performance against Iowa, Allen went 9-24 for 64 yards and another interception in a 49-13 loss to Oregon. It’s true that Allen suffers from a week supporting cast. He’s played his strongest 2017 opponents so far and struggled on both occasions, so it’s hard to imagine how he can significantly enhance his stock between now and the end of the year. Allen has the arm talent to secure a first round placing but his decision making remains questionable and he can be quite erratic throwing the ball (I know he was under pressure, but still):

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Instant reaction: Seahawks struggle to unimpressive win

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Let’s start with the positives.

The Seahawks, on an off day, got their first win of the season. With the game on the line they pulled out two drives to come from behind and get a win.

The penultimate drive, leading to Seattle’s first touchdown of the season, suggested Russell Wilson is finally settling down albeit in an up-tempo setting. The final drive took over four minutes off the clock to ice the game with a series of punishing runs.

Chris Carson continues to shine. That final drive is what the Seahawks want to be. It’s not exactly how they want to get there, with a jumbled-up mess preceding the run-onslaught. Nevertheless, it was what good teams do — put away opponents by running the ball to win the game.

The defense, despite some sloppy run defense at times, conceded just nine points and forced a crucial three-and-out on San Francisco’s final drive.

Carlos Hyde, thanks to his effort last season, was one of only four players to record a 100-yard game in Seattle in the last five years. The fact that he repeated the achievement today might be more indicative of his talent than any major concern for the Seahawks. It’s not a big worry.

The defense is playing well enough to believe this team can have a great year. And if the offense can grow, this can be the season people hoped for.

Despite a disappointing start, the Seahawks haven’t lost any ground in the NFC West and are tied with the Cardinals and Rams at 1-1. Making sure they didn’t drop this game in the division and the conference was crucial with tougher games coming up.

Now onto the negatives and the concerns, which I’ll highlight in bullet points because there are many:

— Why did it take seven quarters for the offense to score a touchdown this season?

— When things go awry, what are Seattle’s go-to plays to get some momentum? Any ideas? Is it just the no-huddle now?

— In these situations, why are they not able to punctuate their best players on offense (such as Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin)?

— The Seahawks are getting very little or nothing from several key additions. Eddie Lacy (inactive), Ethan Pocic (bench), Oday Aboushi (inactive), Malik McDowell (injured). Free agent signings and high draft picks that aren’t contributing.

— The big roster decisions are not paying dividends. J.D. McKissic has been inactive and appears to just be C.J. Prosise’s injury insurance. David Bass and Marcus Smith are making no noticeable impact. Tanner McEvoy dropped two key passes, including a red zone target.

— Russell Wilson, until the penultimate drive, was off form and again struggled in wet conditions. We saw the best and worst of him today encapsulated in two tweets:

— Wilson was lucky not to have turnovers against his name. The Niners will be kicking themselves they didn’t complete one of the relatively straight forward interceptions they missed.

— Was Jimmy Graham hurt today? Did his injury impact his ability to be heavily involved? If not, he is again becoming a white elephant on this offense. By not using him remotely effectively the Seahawks encourage all the noise that is already circulating. ‘Trade him’ will be the call this week. Who to? Which team is going to give you sufficient value after two clunkers to start the year? The more pertinent question is — what exactly were they hoping for when they traded for him? This can’t be it surely? It’s not just Bevell and Cable deciding his role and they didn’t make the trade — so what was Pete Carroll’s plan for Graham?

— It wasn’t a great day for special teams. Needless penalties, average kick-off coverage, Neiko Thorpe was injured and Blair Walsh botched an important extra point. We’ll see how he deals with that.

— Thomas Rawls started the game, looked rusty, dropped the ball on one occasion (possibly two) and didn’t take another hand-off after the 2:14 mark in the first quarter. Is it unfair to wonder if he’ll ever deliver on his clear potential? Or was this a tune-up?

— The O-line didn’t have a horrendous game but there were still mistakes. Fortunately those individual errors seemed to come one at a time and not all at once to truly destroy a play. Mark Glowinski in particular was beaten twice in exactly the same way on the touchdown drive and was bailed out by some Wilson magic.

Overall the offense will be talked about until the cows come home this week. This was very, very poor — with two good drives at the end adding gloss to the overall muddled picture. The run game remains impotent at key moments, the passing game is full of mistakes. They seem unable to exploit a weakness in the opponent (e.g. San Francisco were missing a key linebacker and top safety Eric Reid was hurt) and the offensive line is providing more questions than answers.

The blame will inevitably fall on Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable. This also has to go to the top though. Seattle’s offense doesn’t look any better than it did last season when Wilson was hurt. Blame the coordinators exclusively if you want. The identity of the offense — and the way it flirts with spoiling this team — warrants at least a look in the direction of the Head Coach and front office.

Pete Carroll, with Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable, will need to work together to get this right. The Titans, Rams and Giants are on the horizon.

Not easy.

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CFB week two notes: Auburn loss emphasises O-line struggles

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Auburn pasting highlights O-line issues (again)

It’s not what Seahawks fans want to hear but it’s really hard to find college offensive linemen who stand out. Washington’s Trey Adams didn’t have a great start against Rutgers and Texas’ Connor Williams hasn’t lived up to his hype so far. I’m yet to watch Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey this season but this isn’t encouraging:

Georgia beat Notre Dame 20-19 on Saturday, and the clinching play came at McGlinchey’s expense.

On first down at the Irish 36-yard line, Bulldogs linebacker Davin Bellamy skipped past left tackle McGlinchey, a preseason All-American and potential first-round NFL draft pick, and sacked quarterback Brandon Wimbush to force a fumble. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter recovered the ball and Georgia celebrated its win.

There’s a tendency sometimes to focus on the Seahawks and imagine they’re the only ones struggling on the offensive line. Tell that to fans of the Saints, the Texans (gave up 10 sacks on Sunday) or the Bengals. Most of the league is searching desperately to upgrade. Sadly, O-line play in college is terrible, the top High School athletes continue to want to play defense and this problem isn’t going away any time soon.

Clemson absolutely decimated Auburn’s O-line on Saturday to the tune of 11 (ELEVEN) sacks. That’s a line that includes a player — guard/tackle Braden Smith — whom some have touted as a potential first round prospect.

Christian Wilkins looked every bit a top-15 pick. He had two sacks, absorbed blockers and just dominated. Future 2019 high pick Dexter Lawrence was tremendous, Clelin Ferrell had a sack and worked relentlessly off the edge. Austin Bryant had four sacks.

Auburn couldn’t throw the ball (74 passing yards) and couldn’t run either. Brilliant, physical running back Kamryn Pettway managed 74 tough yards on 22 carries. Every single yard had to be earned.

It was a complete mismatch. A perfect illustration of the problems facing the NFL.

Even a team like Clemson, often known for big passing production and star receivers, is now winning games in the trenches relying on defense.

This one ended 14-6 to Clemson.

The 2018 draft is going to be dominated by quarterbacks (more on that in a moment) but then you’ll see the top end littered with the usual cluster of defensive linemen. Wilkins, Bradley Chubb, Arden Key, Vita Vea, Harold Landry and others. And, as is becoming the norm, we’ll wonder if the tide will ever turn back in the favour of offensive linemen.

There just aren’t many Zack Martin’s out there.

College quarterbacks continue to shine

This has been billed as ‘the year of the quarterback’ and with good reason. I had the opportunity to watch Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen again over the weekend. All three continue to perform at a high level and appear destined for the first round.

Darnold again had a really impressive outing. He threw two interceptions against Stanford but it doesn’t really matter considering what he did in the game. His ability to throw into difficult spots, adjust his body and make plays on the move and just be the ultimate college playmaker is highly impressive. He looks like a complete natural.

Jackson looks like he’s heading for a second consecutive Heisman and who’s going to stop him? His performance against North Carolina wasn’t quite as accomplished as his Purdue effort — but he still finished with 393 passing yards, 132 rushing yards, six total touchdowns and zero turnovers. He’s taken major strides as a passer. His next game against Clemson on Saturday should be fun. He’s the most dynamic player in college football and this level of talent warrants first round consideration:

Rosen had a bit of fortune in his epic comeback against Texas A&M (as discussed in last weeks podcast) but he flashes a pro-skill set and has shown the ability to make some of the more difficult throws. Against Hawaii he had five touchdowns and 329 passing yards. He has the frame, arm talent and natural ability to be a first round quarterback. He lacks Darnold’s improvisational skills and Jackson’s physical profile but he’s no slouch. He looks like a future NFL quarterback.

Scot McCloughan recently predicted on his fascinating Twitter feed that we could see five first round quarterbacks next year. These three could quickly develop into a lock for that range. With Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Nick Fitzgerald also in the reckoning — 2018 could see a rare influx of young talent at the games most important position.

Receiver makes another statement

Last week we highlighted Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs Jr as a player who impressed against Ohio State. On Saturday he made another impression against Virginia:

In two games he has 211 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He’s listed at 6-4 and 220lbs. As stated a week ago, this is a guy to keep an eye on in 2017.

Monday notes: Thoughts on Seattle’s offense

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Defenses are not showing the Seahawks much respect

In previous years, opponents would spend hours worrying about how to deal with Marshawn Lynch’s punishing running style. Russell Wilson’s mobility and improvisational skills were the perfect compliment. Lynch set the tone.

Without Lynch, teams are not as concerned. Where they once had to sell out to limit Beast Mode, they’re now selling out to completely shut down the running game.

We’ve seen over the years how Seattle’s defense has dominated opponents by taking away the run. It’s their modus operandi. Many high-flying offenses became dimensional and impotent.

Now the Seahawks are getting a taste of their own medicine.

It’s easy to point at the O-line and demand they do a better job at run blocking. They must do better. No argument there. But when you’re facing eight or nine men in the box consistently, it’s very difficult to run the ball. Is that on the line, or is it up to the Seahawks’ brain trust of Carroll, Bevell and Cable to find a counter-punch? A blitz-buster or plan that will force opponents to drop men back into coverage and create more favourable running opportunities?

It’s strange that in seven years of the Carroll era, the Seahawks have never been a particularly good screen-team. They haven’t really had a wrinkle to combat pressure. The Rams and Cardinals have often smothered Seattle’s O-line. Dom Capers’ Green Bay unit appear to have Seattle’s number too. They’ve consistently struggled in those match-ups.

It’s why New England’s approach in the regular season last year was so bizarre. They rushed only three or four and dropped bodies into coverage, giving Seattle the time and freedom to do what they wanted. The result was a consistent accumulation of points.

Other teams are not as forgiving.

Do they have the personnel to play the way they want to?

We know the Seahawks want to run the ball and be physical. We know they went away from that last year. Is it even viable at this point though?

If teams are attacking that O-line and selling out to stop the run — continuing to try and run the ball wouldn’t be a wise idea. You don’t want other teams to dictate the way you play but equally you don’t want many games like the one yesterday.

It was OK with Lynch in the backfield. A 20-carry, 60-yard performance from Lynch was sometimes enough to get the Seahawks what they needed. It wore down the defense. Teams were keying on stopping Lynch for four quarters and it took a toll.

One man was able to take it to an entire defense.

Now those 20-carry, 60-yard performances aren’t having the same impact and strain on an opponent.

It’s possible that this version of the Seahawks needs the pass to set up the run. Not every week of course. Some teams, such as upcoming home opponents San Francisco and Indianapolis, could be overmatched. But in the big games against the proper teams in the NFC, there might need to be some flexibility and adaptability.

Isn’t it more fun though just to hammer Tom Cable?

Possibly for some. After a game like that, it’s natural to look for a scapegoat. Coordinators are an easy target. They’re seen as replaceable and a trendy alternative for criticism when the Head Coach is popular.

Two quick points.

Seattle’s starting line in 2013 (Okung, Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy, Giacomini) all remain in the league. All five have been allowed to walk or they’ve been traded. There aren’t many O-line coaches tasked with rebuilding an entire line. For all we know, Cable would’ve retained the lot.

Here’s a breakdown of the Pro-Bowl offensive linemen drafted after the first round during the Pete Carroll years (2010-17):

2010: 0
2011: 2 (Rodney Hudson, Jason Kelce)
2012: 1 (Kelechi Osemele)
2013: 1 (David Bakhtiari)
2014: 1 (Trai Turner)
2015: 0
2016: 0

Those are the names Seattle ‘passed’ on (along with the other 30 teams who equally didn’t draft them). There isn’t this long list of failed assessments by Cable and John Schneider.

Neither have they really had much chance to use free agency. Could they have paid an O-liner instead of inheriting Jimmy Graham’s salary? Possibly. Not many people were complaining about Graham’s acquisition at the time though.

The O-line needs to improve immediately. This isn’t good enough:

Perspective is still an important tool at a time like this though, when reactions are rife and emotions high.

The starting left tackle is on injured reserve, Odhiambo and Joeckel haven’t played together before. Growing pains, sadly, are not particularly surprising.

Seattle’s offense might be struggling with the ‘too many cooks’ angle. Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable all have a say it seems. All have very different backgrounds and ideas. It also makes apportioning blame a difficult thing to do as a fan and observer.

So what now?

The reassuring thing is there’s plenty of evidence that a great defense >>>>> great O-line. Denver won a Super Bowl the year before last with an elite pass rush and secondary. On offense they had an average running game, an ineffective ageing quarterback and a bad offensive line. The Seahawks possess a much better offense than the Super Bowl winning Broncos and the evidence on Sunday is that the defense is absolutely legit.

Denver found a way to make their offense do just enough. The Seahawks, at a minimum, have to do the same. What they showed on Sunday was below the necessary mark.

I’ll have some thoughts on week two of the college football season on the blog on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks succumb to Packers again

Sunday, September 10th, 2017

Unfortunately, Deja Vu is the term that springs to mind.

Dom Capers’ Green Bay defense had Seattle’s number.

The Seahawks offense looked like it was in the same crisis of identity we saw last year.

A lot of the focus will be on the officials. The call to deny Nazair Jones a touchdown and eject Jeremy Lane was a poor one. The non-PI on Jimmy Graham was equally galling.

Really though, the Seahawks didn’t deserve to win today. Not with that offensive performance. As a unit they collected nine points in total. That isn’t going to beat Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau.

It wasted another tremendous defensive display. Despite losing Lane, Green Bay were shut out in the first half. Seattle collected sacks and took away the token gesture run game.

The offense, in response, was impotent.

By the fourth quarter the defense was clearly exhausted and suffering with cramps. The slow, painful drive to make it 17-6 and the final game-clincher had to be endured.

So what happened on offense?

— Seattle, as was so often the case last season, simply couldn’t establish a running game

— Russell Wilson, for whatever reason, sees green and yellow Kryptonite whenever he plays Green Bay

— The offensive line still looks like an issue

A defense that was made to look silly by Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick and the read-option every time the Packers met Harbaugh’s 49ers, suddenly looks like the 85 Bears when they play the Seahawks.

It’s easy to forget all the calls for Capers to be fired after those San Francisco shellacking’s. These games against Seattle have rejuvenated his career.

Without wanting to make excuses for the O-line, Green Bay’s defense seemed to be very busy reminiscent of the way Arizona attacks Seattle. There’s a lot of bodies up front, a lot of moving parts. The Seahawks, for some reason, have never been good at dealing with pressure. Screens have never worked in the Carroll era. They don’t really have a go-to response.

The result was a lot of chaos up front. However, you may have noticed Seattle also created a lot of pressure against Rodgers. Green Bay found ways to make plays regardless. Seattle could not.

With stars like Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin on offense, not to mention the flexibility they have with pass-catching backs and a mobile quarterback — they have to find ways to temper pressure.

That’s not to say the O-line doesn’t need to improve. They do. And fast.

The running game problems might be a bigger concern. This could just be a particularly difficult day against a defense that always plays Seattle hard. Green Bay seemed to take particular joy in shutting down Eddie Lacy for example.

Yet the inability to dictate anything on offense and get any rhythm in the run game was eerily similar to last season.

This time there are no excuses. The O-line is a year older. Wilson isn’t injured and immobile.

They have to do better than this. It was a major point of focus to regain that nasty edge on offense and re-establish the run. This wasn’t a good start.

Other teams like Green Bay, Atlanta, Dallas — they aren’t trying to work out their identity or re-establish anything on offense. Seattle has to reach that point too and fast.

Is the committee approach going to work? Is Lacy going to be effective? Is it time to just accept Chris Carson is the best and most complete back on the team?

Defensively there were major positives. The D-line looks as good as advertised. Sheldon Richardson made his introduction with some key plays and Earl Thomas looks ready for a career year.

If the offense had scored more points and kept the defense fresh, this could’ve been a very different afternoon.

It’s a third straight loss against the Packers at Lambeau. If the teams do meet again this season, you better hope it’s not in Green Bay.

Seattle should have better success against San Francisco in the home opener next weekend and their second home game against the hapless Colts also shouldn’t prove too tricky.

The next three road games though — Titans, Rams, Giants — will need to see a much improved offensive performance.

6 Reasons You Can Get Excited About the 2017 Seahawks

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

I want to profusely thank my longtime friend Rob Staton for the opportunity to write for his blog. I might as well ask for his forgiveness now, too, while I’m at it. 

This is an optimism piece. Gird yourself accordingly.

Before the 2013 season started, I correctly predicted a Super Bowl win for the Seahawks that year. I even identified their eventual opponent.

That doesn’t mean much. I know nothing. And things are different this year.

Back then, I was impressed by the innovations of the Seahawks’ front office. They stood at the leading edge of early-decade evolutions in NFL play, finding ways to exploit market surpluses, setting trends that NFL teams still copy today. The 2013 road was bumpy for the Seahawks, requiring more than a few ridiculous narrow escapes from teams who had no business keeping up (Houston, Tennessee, Tampa). But they found ways to win, and in the end, their toughness and depth were a perfect Ragnarok for the finesse Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Walking into 2017, the Seahawks aren’t necessarily new anymore. Teams know about Russell Wilson. They’ve remembered that the run matters. Seattle’s simplistic, just-try-to-beat-us Cover 3 defense has been solved, at least enough to give opposing offenses a wedge in the door. Instead of holding a novelty advantage over the league, Seattle must rely on talent, depth, effort, and resilience.

No problem. They’ve still got that.

The 2017 offseason got me jazzed. Offseasons rarely do that. I’ve been seeing pretenders and fools’ gold everywhere since 2007, and my therapist doesn’t know what to do with me anymore. But this offseason was the first time since 2013 in which Seattle’s moves really seemed to be targeting 1) the unique strengths of the team and 2) the elements most commonly considered crucial to winning. It’s left me with a simmering optimism for the Seahawks’ 2017 prospects.

Here are six reasons why.


1. Special Teams

Depth, depth, depth.

It was one of the least recognized, most essential aspects of our 2013 run. It insulated the Seahawks’ playoffs chances from injuries, and it strengthened special teams.

Do you remember when we used to lean forward in anticipation with every Steven Haushcka kickoff, waiting for someone to fly down and knock the ball loose from the opposing returner’s hands? I remember. Pepperidge Farm remembers. Winning the field position battle and generating the occasional special teams turnover was an enormous defensive advantage that year – and something that took a precipitous drop for Seattle in 2016, partially, perhaps, due to losing influential gunner extraordinare Ricardo Lockette:

2013: 25.8 yard line (starting field position for opponents)
2014: 25.7
2015: 23.8
2016: 28.4

(source: Pro Football Reference)

This year, depth has returned to Seattle, like salmon returning home (weird analogy, but I’m hungry). If preseason proves one thing, it’s the quality of its depth.

And it should, at least in theory, bolster their special teams unit. Seattle’s focus on drafting defensive backs higher than normal wasn’t just an attempt to reload the aging Legion of Boom – it was an effort to bring nastiness back to special teams. S Delano Hill was a particularly intriguing move on that front. Throw in underrated moves like trading for proven special teams ace DJ Alexander, our embarrassment of riches at RB/hybrid WR, and our acquisitions at linebacker, and Seattle could have the makings for a championship-caliber special teams unit. Not a factor to be underrated.

Speaking of which…


2. Options at running back

It wasn’t until I saw SI’s Andy Benoit waxing poetic about the Atlanta Falcons’ running backs, and how many options they afford the offense, that Seattle’s moves at the position snapped into focus for me.

It’s not just about sandbagging against injury. All these running backs and hybrid WR’s? Seattle wants to be the Falcons. Or, as you might have suspected after the NFL’s opener on Thursday, the Chiefs, whose head coach Andy Reid is matched by no-one at employing running backs downfield.

Having talented running backs who can run routes and disguise offensive looks is worth its weight in gold. That’s why it’s hard to get consterned over Seattle’s seemingly thin WR roster, which after Jermaine Kearse’s departure seems to pretty much end (at least as far as proven experience is concerned) after three small and somewhat injury-prone guys. It actually doesn’t end there. C.J. Prosise brings a proven ability to get vertical and force offenses to reveal coverages just by lining out wide. They’re hoping J.D. McKissic can do the same; his potential at mimicking both Prosise and WR Tyler Lockett’s skill sets went a long way towards securing him a roster spot. Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls are at least decent pass-catchers. Even rookie Chris Carson showed some chops here in the preseason.

This is the most hauntingly intriguing assortment of Swiss-army knife RB’s Seattle has had in years. IT’s fair to mention that Seattle’s limited options at tight end might cap our efforts to be the Falcons. But should Darell Bevell find ways to maximize this potential (and keep everyone healthy) while getting the read-option working again, Seattle’s opponents could still find themselves with their hands full.

Speaking of which…


3. Russell Wilson’s health

I pushed this down a bit in an attempt to be different, but it could just easily go #1.

Everyone noticed when Wilson got slow last year. Folks assumed it came courtesy of an ankle crush by Ndamukong Suh in Week 1 against Miami. What only a few observant fans noticed is that he was already looking slower during the preseason. Media literature confirmed that Wilson had intentionally bulked up somewhat over the 2016 offseason as part of an injury-prevention program. The ankle tweak in Week 1 slowed him further, and in Week 3 he was sacked awkwardly by a spying San Francisco linebacker on a rollout play (by definition not the offensive line’s fault, it’s worth mentioning), leaving him gimpy for most of the season and hampering Seattle’s running game into the bargain.

The lesson learned, apparently, is that the best way for Wilson to absorb hits (and the biggest benefit to Seattle’s running game) is to avoid taking them at all.

This year, Wilson is back to his spry 2015 weight and looked red-hot during the preseason. He should be a danger to take off from the read-option again. That’s one of those things that Seattle’s opponents know about but can’t stop without either having a Pro Bowl defensive line (ahem Rams cough) or making sacrifices elsewhere on defense. Remember Mike Holmgren famously saying that he didn’t care if he was predictable as long as the predictable was unstoppable? As long as Wilson’s healthy, Seattle is in a similar position.

Speaking of which…


4. Pass rush

You have no idea how depressed I got when top draft pick DT Malik McDowell was lost to the team.

Forget the offensive line for a moment. It’s the defensive line that’s quietly been the biggest bugaboo in Seattle’s shoe since 2014. A deep, consistent pass rush that can generate pressure without blitzing is a must-have when you’re targeting the big dance.

Seattle hasn’t had that for years. It’s well-known to the attentive that Seattle’s postseason demise in both 2012 and 2014 came partially at the hands of injuries to crucial pass rushers (Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril respectively, with Jordan Hill lost earlier in the 2014 season).

Avril and (surely you’ve noticed) Michael Bennett remain on the roster, but their effectiveness came into question towards the end of 2016. Seattle’s lack of pressure against Falcons QB Matt Ryan last year wasn’t necessarily the end of their effectiveness so much as Ryan having a career game from the pocket in his own right (against a defense lacking Earl Thomas). But the fact remains that, while both Avril and Bennett have the attitude and resilience to join the ranks of the league’s long-suffering Dwight Freeney’s, they’re also on the wrong side of 30, and Seattle would have been fools to not make contingency plans. DE Jarran Reed is an excellent Brandon Mebane replacement but not a QB-reacher, nobody else on the interior has really stood out over the years, and it was unfair to ask (admittedly scintillating) edge rusher Frank Clark to shoulder the load alone. Seattle needed an interior penetrator.

Enter Malik McDowell. There were questions about his effort, but otherwise? Calais Campbell upside. He could have been the answer to Seattle’s pass rush problems, possibly even the most impactful Seattle draftee since Russell Wilson himself. That’s the importance of interior pass rush.

Welp…he got injured. Despite being sighted in Seattle’s locker room, I am operating on the assumption that he won’t play this year.

But then Seattle pirouetted magnificently from the blow and landed DE Sheldon Richardson in a trade from the Jets. Richardson is young, undeniably disruptive against both pass and run, and, as Rob has written before, NOT as un-re-signable as some are saying. It would take some doing, but as Seattle found with Jimmy Graham, there is the sense that sometimes you just have to open your wallet. Few positions are worth it like interior defensive tackle.

Thanks to Sheldon, Clark, the still-intense duo of Avril and Bennett, and McDowell (if he somehow returns this year), Seattle has, on paper, the ability to puncture pockets, stuff talented running backs, and pressure quarterbacks into errant throws without overtaxing their linebackers, not to mention the depth to keep their line fresh. More than any season since Red Bryant’s departure after 2013, offensive coordinators will be awake at night when thinking about the Seahawks.


5. The schedule

I’m trying not to be fooled by this. Schedules can change; underdogs can emerge.

But Seattle has avoided a lot of pitfalls on the schedule this year. The division is low. Arizona has lost defensive talent. San Francisco and St. Louis have giant flashing question marks at quarterback. Seattle faces only one 10am road game (a monkey Seattle actually ripped off its back years ago, but whatever), and it’s against Jacksonville. No back-to-back road games exist anywhere on the slate. Facing the Giants and the Cowboys on the road is a challenge (especially after the recent news that Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott might be playing this year after all), but after that – manageable. Not gimmes, but quite manageable.


6. The back seven is still there

This defense boasts eight Pro Bowlers, several of whom are motivated to nab one more year of glory before getting separated by the excruciating contract decisions Seattle will have to make in the next few years. They’re hungry again, they’ve got Earl Thomas back, and they’re ready.

Call that a shallow take if you want, but the entirety of their dropoff last year can be explained by the loss of Earl to injury. They’ve got the best set of options at cornerback they’ve had in a while. I’m intrigued by LB Terence Garvin. They’ve dramatically improved their safety depth. Again…depth, depth, depth. The Seahawks have it back there in a way they haven’t since…yep…2013.



So…do I think the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl?

I’m going out on a limb and saying yes.

That’s just my call, and it always carries a bit of trepidation. You certainly don’t have to feel the same way. I know there are common reservations (I’d like to address those next week in another post). But that’s my prediction. It’s fun to make.

Many things have aligned right. There’s a pop to this September. Seattle managed 10.5 wins last year despite injuries to Wilson and Thomas, with a harsher schedule. Alter the outcome of three Hauschka kicks and it’s 12 wins. Reports of the demise of this championship window could well be greatly exaggerated when you look at the grand scheme.

There might be tough games. Seattle might barely squeak out wins against some bottom-feeders instead of looking terrifying week in and week out like the New England Belichicks (which is what most fans prefer to our ragged, ugly 2013 run). But winning ugly can still bring you a Lombardi.

I’m hoping for a revenge win against the Belichicks in Minneapolis, personally, but I’ll take whomever feels like getting trampled.

Draft notes: Lamar Jackson makes a week one statement

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Lamar Jackson shows tremendous improvement

For all the talk about Josh Rosen’s miracle comeback, the quarterback who arguably had the best performance at the weekend was last years Heisman winner.

In 2016 Lamar Jackson showed incredible physical talent, the ability to be a major threat as a runner or passer and he clearly possessed a rocket arm. However, there were question marks about his ability to throw with touch and be more than just a ‘chucker’ (as Pete Carroll might put it).

In a back-and-forth victory against Purdue on Saturday, Jackson was incredible. There were numerous examples where he threw with touch and accuracy. He didn’t just rely on the fastball. He also did a great job using his elusiveness and athleticism to extend plays, keep his eyes downfield and make big gains in the passing game. Last year he might’ve taken off and tried to run for a first down, here against Purdue he was looking to pass.

He finished with 378 yards passing, 107 rushing with two touchdowns and zero turnovers. On this evidence he’s not only the early favourite to win another Heisman — he could easily climb above the likes of Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. Jackson is a unique playmaker.

Bradley Chubb makes a good start

The NC State pass rusher is the cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb. For those who aren’t aware, Nick had one of the most impressive performances in recent history at the Nike SPARQ combines in 2013. Great athleticism clearly runs in the family.

Bradley is 6-4 and 275lbs but carries the weight perfectly. Against South Carolina he had a TFL on the first snap of the game and added another later on. He wasn’t credited with a third TFL for some reason in the second half and he would’ve had a sack but for a late trip as he closed in on the quarterback.

Chubb has great lean and bend for his size, shows a nice get off and can win with speed and length/hand use. There were times where he stunted inside with some success. On one snap they had him drop into coverage to blitz a safety that led to a sack.

His effort is very good and he’s disciplined in the run game. He’s also comfortable working in space. On one snap he was isolated trying to defend a sweep — but forced the runner out of bounds for a one-yard loss.

The only obvious negative was a broken tackle on a red zone run play that ended in a touchdown. He made contact with the runner and should’ve got him down. The back escaped to score.

Overall though this was a good start from an EDGE rusher with top-20 potential.

Sheffield vs Cobbs Jr a major highlight

The best matchup in week one was arguably Kendall Sheffield (CB, Ohio State) against Simmie Cobbs Jr (WR, Indiana). Both players had their moments.

Sheffield is a former Alabama receiver who went down the JUCO route with Blinn College before joining the Buckeye’s. He’s 6-1 and 185lbs and looks like your typical Urban Meyer-team cornerback. Positionally he’s very good. Eli Apple’s best aspect was his ability to keep everything in front and not get beat over the top. You see that same patience and technique in Sheffield.

On one play he made a fantastic diving tip to deflect a pass into the hands of a team mate for an interception. Without his touch it would’ve been a touchdown. He also showed ability as an open-field tackler and even on the plays where he gave up receptions — you had to credit the QB/WR. His coverage was tight and sound and he was only beaten by a superb grab or a difficult back-shoulder throw.

Cobbs Jr ended with 11 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. He’s 6-4 and 220lbs. Although he didn’t really create separation all that often, he made a series of difficult circus catches, one-handed grabs and flashed great body control.

With a receiver this big, if they’re running away from defenders they’re basically Mike Evans and going in the top-10. There aren’t many of those. What you want to see is a lot of contested catches ending in completions. Cobbs Jr showed he can go up and get the ball against one of the toughest secondaries in college football.

This was a good showing for both receiver and cornerback and they’re two players to monitor going forward.

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Why the Seahawks can re-sign Richardson & Graham

Monday, September 4th, 2017

The Seahawks can re-sign Sheldon Richardson — and Jimmy Graham — if they want to

According to Spotrac, the Seahawks have an estimated $26m in free cap space in 2018. Spotrac’s numbers work under the assumption the cap increases to $168m next year, a miserly $1m increase on the 2017 total.

Here’s how the cap has increased in recent years:

2017 — $168m
2016 — $155m
2015 — $143m
2014 — $133m
2013 — $123m

Considering the average growth per year since 2013 is $11.25m a year, the chances of it only growing $1m to $168m in 2018 seems unlikely.

So basically, there’s every chance the Seahawks will have comfortably more than $26m in cap space at the end of the season.

Cutting or trading Jeremy Lane in the off-season creates another $5m. Cutting Neiko Thorpe creates another $2m and it’s the same for Jon Ryan. So there are plenty of moves they can make to further bolster their available cash if required — even though they might not need to.

If Spotrac’s numbers are accurate and if the cap continues to increase, they could have upwards of $30-$40m to spend.

Over the Cap has the same point of view:

So when people say it’s unlikely, improbable or even impossible for the Seahawks to re-sign both Sheldon Richardson and Jimmy Graham, this isn’t strictly true.

The greatest obstacle could be their willingness to match big demands rather than available cap space. If Graham and Richardson ask for a kings ransom or an unrealistic salary, then of course it’s entirely possible they will depart. It’s also possible they don’t perform to expectations and Seattle opts to move on.

But the numbers provided by Spotrac suggest it’s entirely possible to keep both.

If Sheldon Richardson asks for $18m a year or something along those lines, the franchise tag is a possibility. This years tag number for a defensive tackle is $13.387m.

There are other things to consider too, of course. Frank Clark is going to need paying soon (he’s eligible to discuss a new deal in 2018) and Earl Thomas’ contract is up in 2019, as is Richard Sherman’s.

Yet as those deals near their conclusion, some of the older guard will be coming towards the end of their careers. High earners will depart, creating more room. And the rise of the cap shows no signs of slowing down.

It doesn’t mean this will be an easy process but when Peter King says, “The Seahawks plan to try hard to sign Richardson beyond this year” — it’s entirely possible. Ditto Jimmy Graham. And if it’s not Graham it could be Luke Joeckel or Eddie Lacy.

You get the picture.

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Sunday thoughts: GB plan, ‘the trade’ and cut down day

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

What is Seattle’s thinking at defensive tackle?

At the moment Seattle’s roster is light at defensive tackle. Only Sheldon Richardson, Naz Jones and Jarran Reed are what you’d call orthodox interior linemen. Michael Bennett can move inside — but usually Seattle carries a bit more beef on the D-line.

This could be indicative of a plan to face Green Bay.

The Packers are probably not going to try and ram the ball down Seattle’s throat. In the 38-10 rout at Lambeau last season, starting running back Ty Montgomery rushed only nine times for 41 yards. Christine Michael split the carries with a 10/36 stat line.

Montgomery (a converted wide out) remains the lead back, supported by rookie Jamaal Williams. This doesn’t scream physical running attack. Plugging the middle and taking away rushing lanes isn’t necessarily going to be the key to winning this one. Pressuring Aaron Rodgers and getting the pass rush going could be.

When they want to be stout up front, Richardson, Jones and Reed can line up possibly at the same time and handle those duties. We might see a lot more ‘attack mode’ though in an attempt to pressure Rodgers. That could mean, at least for one week, a lot more of Bennett lining up inside next to Richardson with Avril and Clark working the edges with Bass and Smith also getting involved.

Attack mode.

They have to try something new, because Rodgers hasn’t had a tough time working Seattle’s defense in the last two meetings at Lambeau. He’s 43/56 passing for 495 and five touchdowns (zero interceptions).

After this game, we might see a bit more beef added to help Seattle take away the running game (their modus operandi on defense). For example, it’s hard to imagine Seattle carrying only three defenders when they head to Tennessee to take on ‘exotic smashmouth’.

In Lambeau against the Packers in week one? Quickness >>>>>> Beef.

Some thoughts on the cuts yesterday

It’s probably fair to say there was some mild hysteria when it was revealed the Seahawks were going to cut Kasen Williams. There was also a lot of disappointment expressed when it was announced Pierre Desir was departing too.

Both players have subsequently been snapped up on waivers by the Browns and Colts respectively.

However, I wanted to try and bring some perspective to these two decisions.

As fans and observers, we really do have limited access to the overall decision making process. We see four pre-season games and some training camp workouts. We might believe that’s enough to judge who ‘won’ a competition for a roster spot — but how accurate is that?

Seattle’s coaches and front office staff have to consider many things here. Club control, future cost, age, who best fits the specific role, who has the most potential, who works the hardest to improve or absorbs coaching easily? These are things we don’t really have any clue about.

The decision to keep Amara Darboh over Kasen Williams has been described by some as evidence of ‘third round pick survives because they spent a high pick on him’. Ask yourself this — what do we actually know about Amara Darboh as fans?

This team has poured over the college tape on Darboh, extensively studied his backstory and in the draft clearly believed he had the potential to be a very useful player in Seattle.

Are they now going to go against all of that work, all of those judgements and cut the guy just because Kasen Williams had a good pre-season?

Here’s Darboh matching up with Shaquille Griffin in 2016. That’s the Shaquille Griffin a lot of people want to see starting at corner for the Seahawks…

It’s nothing to do with abandoning ‘competition’ or any of that jazz. Are we really going to limit ‘always compete’ to four games against backups in the pre-season?

Imagine in 2015 if Tyler Lockett, as a third round rookie, got hurt and never really got into his stride during his first pre-season. And then Seattle cut him in preference of a pre-season phenomena. Would we be looking back on that as a wise move?

So why didn’t Williams get in ahead of Tanner McEvoy, you might ask? Perhaps it comes down to the role they’ve earmarked for what is, essentially, the fifth receiver on the roster? If that spot is about special teams and the occasional opportunity to make a big play — they might see McEvoy as a better special teamer and he’s shown he can make explosive plays.

Some people will also wonder about J.D. McKissic. He carries a lot of value for his ability to wear a number of different hats and be a key special teamer. Despite Pete Carroll’s claim that Tyler Lockett will do all the returns, do we know if he’s even going to make week one? Furthermore, did you notice how the sideline roared every time McKissic made a play in pre-season? It might not have shown up in the games but behind the curtain, it appears there are quite a few people impressed with McKissic’s potential and attitude.

It’s a difficult balancing act sometimes, especially when your cuts actually matter on a loaded roster. A team like this always leaves itself open for criticism. It’s the price of success. If they’d cut Darboh and he went on to have a good career — imagine the grief Seattle would get for giving up so quickly on a third rounder? Now if Kasen Williams becomes the second coming of Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland, people will equally criticise. There’s no easy answer.

Further thoughts on the Sheldon Richardson trade

The deal received almost universal acclaim, which is unusual given the high price of the trade and the fact it could end up being a one-year rental. Usually when a pick in the first two rounds is involved, there’s a few dissenting voices.

Scot McCloughan said something interesting on Twitter this week when asked about the trade. He said it was a great deal because he’d never get a player like Richardson in round two next year.

It’s an interesting point — and one worth indulging.

The Seahawks are using their draft capital in a way that suits them at this moment, in 2017. Yes high draft picks are important. However, it’s evident how difficult it is becoming for some of the younger guys to make an impression when challenged to displace players within arguably the most talented roster in the league.

This years natural second round pick, Ethan Pocic, would probably be a rookie starter in Seattle in the past. Instead he’s on the outside looking in, unable to usurp the incumbents who in fairness have made improvements gradually as pre-season progressed. Amara Darboh, a third round pick, was being touted as a potential cut by some people.

Taking into account Malik McDowell’s injury, only Naz Jones, Shaq Griffin and Chris Carson have really scratched the surface of genuine playing time. It’s unclear how much any of the three will play against the Packers — you’d still expect the veteran players in front to get most of the snaps.

There’s a tendency to point the finger at the front office in a situation like this and say they should do a better job in the draft. In reality, this roster is absolutely jam packed as it is. Rich in talent across the board. It’s a difficult roster to crack. The only exception is the O-line really — but even there we’re seeing green shoots of potential.

In comparison, there is no doubt whatsoever that Sheldon Richardson is going to have an impact or win a starting job. He’s not only a terrific defensive lineman, he fills a need which is incredibly difficult to solve via the draft. There just aren’t that many players like Richardson in the NFL or college football. Quality interior pass rushers are surprisingly rare.

Seattle’s 2018 second round pick has been used here to bolster the team significantly for this season. To genuinely enhance their chances of winning another Super Bowl. It’s not a desperation move — it’s a calculated one. The very thing an asset should be used for.

There’s a stigma within the NFL that using picks in this way is a bit of a negative thing. The popularity of the event, the way the draft effectively builds teams quicker than the NBA or MLB and the desire to analyse the process has made draft stock more and more valuable.

Indeed we’re seeing teams now, even in the last few days, accumulating picks knowing they face a big rebuild ahead. Almost cutting their losses and preparing for the future before week one is even on the horizon.

The Seahawks aren’t in that position. They’re right in the middle of a Championship window. Ideally you want those early picks and an opportunity to have a fun and exciting draft. Yet this trade for Sheldon Richardson is worth so much to the team today. Seattle really is in a position now where the future — and the 2018 draft — can wait. It’s time to get after a Championship. Richardson helps them do that.

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CFB week one notes: Vita Vea, Greg Gaines stand out

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Washington duo make a big impression

Yes, it was against a bad Rutgers team. Yes, there’ll be tougher challenges and better match-ups ahead. But the first performance of the season where two guys simply looked better than anyone else on the field came in Washington’s opening game on Friday night.

Defensive tackle duo Vita Vea and Greg Gaines controlled the LOS every time they were on the field. It was a perfect example of two future NFL players standing out and jumping off the screen.

Vea consistently showed the brute strength to manhandle lineman and shove the pocket from the interior. He flashed a terrific bull rush and he’s a natural nose tackle. The comparisons to Haloti Ngata are not unwarranted, it’s that similar combination of unnatural mobility for his size and simply being the strongest guy on the field.

Gaines is quicker and often he’ll work his way into the backfield and offer more pass rush. However, he’s still incredibly stout and when he needed to work vs the run there was very little mark down compared to Vea. He’s also really busy — the motor never switches off. He works to the ball, plays to the whistle and just keeps going.

On one 3rd down on the goal line the two absorbed the entire three man interior OL allowing Keishawn Bierria the room to explode into the backfield on a run stop.

At the end of the first half, Rutgers went into hurry-up mode and caught Vea/Gaines off the field. They ran the ball to the tune of +30 yards, upping the tempo and not allowing Washington the chance to make a substitution. The difference in run defense when they weren’t on the field was strikingly clear. Rutgers just ran it up the gut three teams with great success.

As soon as the Huskies were able to get Vea and Gaines back on the field just before the two minute warning, the drive stalled at midfield and Rutgers ended up missing a long field goal.

Vea easily has the potential to work his way into the top-15 if not the top-10 in next years draft. Gaines is highly underrated and while he won’t go as early as Vea — he certainly has a NFL future.

If there’s a reason why Washington can again compete at a high level this year, the ability of these two to consistently control the LOS is even more important than the explosive, athletic offense highlighted by Dante Pettis and Myles Gaskin.

Not getting the Josh Allen hype

All we’ve heard over the summer is how great the 2018 quarterback class will be. Never mind that Josh Rosen has serious shoulder concerns, Sam Darnold hasn’t even played a full season of college ball and Josh Allen is, well, overrated.

When you watch his play on tape you do see some real flashes of brilliance. He has the physical tools you’d expect in a first round prospect. You also see maddening inaccuracy, incredible decision making and a player that hasn’t performed well against decent opposition.

Yes, he plays for Wyoming and doesn’t have the best supporting cast. It didn’t stop Paxton Lynch leading Memphis to a victory over Ole Miss and making the Tigers a genuine contender before he turned pro. Allen hasn’t really been able to emulate that so far.

And Lynch really is a good example to mention here. He has the physical tools and arguably played better football in college (at least so far). He was a first round pick. Lynch is currently stuck as the #2 in Denver, benched for a seventh round pick. Why? Because physical tools aren’t enough.

Allen played against good-not-great Iowa today and finished with a stat line that read: 23/40 passing, 174 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He only mustered three points on offense (Wyoming lost 24-3).

Look at what happened on this screen pass he threw:

A lot of respectable people think Allen is a stone-cold lock for the top five, if not the #1 overall pick. I’m not buying it. Not at the moment.

Other highlights

— We talked about Clemson receiver Deon Cain a few weeks ago. He scored a 61-yard touchdown against Kent State on Saturday. Clemson is basically wide receiver U — the way they coach their WR’s is unmatched. Smart guys, highly athletic. Cain is the next one off the production line.

— Saquon Barkley is a superstar in the making. A freak of nature athlete with ideal size/height. He did it all against Akron in a big opening victory for Penn State, running for 172 yards on just 14 carries (two touchdowns) and adding 54 receiving yards on three carries. He’s a legit Heisman candidate and a top-10 pick in the making.

— Penn State’s senior tight end Mike Gesicki also scored two touchdowns and collected 58 yards on six catches. He’s another name to monitor.

— A year ago I thought Bradley Chubb was destined for the first round. He’s Nick Chubb’s cousin. He could be a big mover this year, potentially landing in the top-20. Here’s how he started the new college football season:

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