NCF Nation: James Louis

We've been ranking each position group in the Big Ten, and so far we've looked at running backs and quarterbacks. Today, let's finish off the offensive skill positions with receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten is blessed with plenty of standout wide receivers, but remember these rankings heavily account for overall depth at the position, not just isolated star power. We're also including the tight ends in this group while acknowledging that the best ones aren't necessarily big-time pass-catchers.

Here's how we rank them:

[+] EnlargeB.J. Cunningham
Andrew Weber/US PresswireB.J. Cunningham had the best numbers last season among a deep group of receivers and tight ends.
1. Michigan State: The Spartans may lack a true superstar, though senior B.J. Cunningham (50 catches for 611 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010) is pretty darn good. What Mark Dantonio can really count on is depth. Cunningham has good size at 6-foot-2, while Keshawn Martin is a speed-burner. Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler fill out a solid cast of receivers, and when you throw in Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims at tight end, this group deserves the top spot.

2. Michigan: If Darryl Stonum weren't suspended indefinitely, this group might be No. 1. It's still pretty good as things stand now. Roy Roundtree leads the way after catching 72 passes for 935 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and Junior Hemingway is a strong secondary option for Denard Robinson. Tight end Kevin Koger is a third-year starter who can occasionally make big plays in the passing game.

3. Northwestern: Senior Jeremy Ebert (62 catches for 935 yards and eight touchdowns last season) was a first-team All-Big Ten performer as voted by the media. Demetrius Fields had 25 receptions last year, and the Wildcats are counting on big improvements from sophomores Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Venric Mark. Northwestern uses its superback position as a tight end, and Drake Dunsmore had 40 catches from that spot last year.

4. Indiana: The Hoosiers languish at the bottom of many of these rankings, but receiver/tight end is a point of pride. Senior Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 catches last year on his way to 832 yards. Even with the loss of Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner, who each had more than 60 catches in '10, new coach Kevin Wilson has a solid corps behind Belcher with Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes, among others. And Ted Bolser is a highly productive tight end who had 27 catches for 407 yards and five scores a year ago.

5. Penn State: Three of the top four receivers from last year return, including No. 1 target Derek Moye (his 16.7 yards per catch average was second in the Big Ten a year ago). Justin Brown and Devon Smith need to continue moving forward. Will the Nittany Lions get anything out of Curtis Drake, who's trying to return from his second broken leg? Penn State hopes to get something out of the tight end position, where Andrew Szczerba and Garry Gilliam dealt with season-ending injuries last year.

6. Wisconsin: Once we reach the middle of these rankings, the units start to become interchangeable and a little indistinguishable. Wisconsin doesn't have to throw it too much because of its stellar running game, but the Badgers have some solid choices when they do go to the air. Senior Nick Toon has the talent to record more than the 36 catches and 459 yards he produced a year ago. Jared Abbrederis should continue to come along after a nice freshman campaign. There's potential but not much experience among the rest of the receivers. Star tight end Lance Kendricks will be tough to replace, but Jake Byrne is an outstanding blocker and Jacob Pedersen caught two touchdowns last year.

7. Nebraska: Brandon Kinnie is the leader here, and the 6-foot-3 senior isn't afraid to make the big catch. Freshmen Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell had nice springs and could add some playmaking skills to a largely unproven crew around Kinnie. Kyler Reed might be the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the Big Ten, if not the country, after hauling in eight touchdowns and 18 yards per reception a year ago.

[+] EnlargeMarvin McNutt
Scott Boehm/Getty Images Marvin McNutt will be expected to be the No.1 wideout for the Hawkeyes this season.
8. Iowa: Senior Marvin McNutt is the go-to option after recording 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Hawkeyes will look to junior Keenan Davis to improve and become the No. 2 target. Just about everyone else is green. Tight end is usually a strength for Kirk Ferentz and should be again with senior Brad Herman and a group of talented backups behind him.

9. Ohio State: Seems like we write this a lot, but the Buckeyes would be ranked higher if their star player in this group were available an entire season. But DeVier Posey's five-game suspension means this is an awfully young corps, and that inexperience showed with some inconsistent play this spring. Ohio State will need talented sophomore Corey "Philly" Brown to take a big leap forward and youngsters like Chris Fields, T.Y. Williams and James Louis to contribute in Posey's absence. Tight end Jake Stoneburner might have to become a bigger presence in the passing game.

10. Purdue: The Boilermakers have some decent depth but no proven stars. Antavian Edison is the leading returning receiver with just 314 yards last year, though the junior does have good speed. Justin Siller is talented but has had trouble staying healthy. Purdue lost two solid veterans at tight end in Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay and added a couple of potential replacements, including former basketball player Patrick Bade, this summer.

11. Minnesota: Da'Jon McKnight tied for second in the Big Ten last year with 10 receiving touchdowns. But the Gophers' second-leading receiver last season was MarQueis Gray, who's now their starting quarterback. Brandon Green could help after an injury-plagued season. Tight end Eric Lair can grab a few passes, as he did 39 times in 2010.

12. Illinois: The good news: A.J. Jenkins is a reliable weapon who had 746 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The bad news: There's not much experience behind him. Perhaps Ryan Lankford, who starred in the spring while Jenkins was out with an injury, will emerge as a star his sophomore year. Evan Wilson is back at tight end after starting 11 games as a freshman.
Being one of the top-rated recruits in the country is a double-edged sword. You get all the attention and hype you'd ever want coming out of high school. But there is also more pressure on you to succeed once you step foot on campus. And there's more pressure on coaches and programs to get the most out of their big-time prospects. As the old saying goes, potential will get you fired.

With that in mind, today we're taking a look back at the top Big Ten recruits from the 2010 class and seeing where they stand. It's not fair to judge these guys until the end of their college careers, and in several cases these players haven't even gotten on the field yet. But it's never too early to take stock.

We're going to use the ESPNU150 list from 2010 as our guide. The Big Ten had 14 players make that elite list. We'll divide the players into three categories: those who've made the biggest impact so far, those who have played but for whom the jury is still out and those who haven't played yet. (One interesting thing to note: None of the 14 made Adam's 2010 Big Ten All-Freshman team):

Away we go ...

Biggest impact

Rob Bolden, QB, Penn State (No. 112 overall, No. 4 position rank)

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, FileRob Bolden made a big impact as a freshman, but his future remains up in the air.
You all know the Bolden story. He started the first seven games as a true freshmen and eight games overall, throwing for 1,360 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Then he lost his job to walk-on Matt McGloin after suffering a concussion against Minnesota, and there was a heated quarterback battle this spring. The last we heard, Bolden hadn't decided whether he'll stay at Penn State or transfer before the 2011 season.

Corey Brown, WR, Ohio State (No. 137 overall, No. 20 position rank)

"Philly," as he's called, played in all 13 games last season and saw time on the kick and punt return teams as well as at receiver. He caught eight balls for 105 yards and a touchdown, which came in the win over Purdue. He won the outstanding first-year player award from the coaching staff. But he also had trouble with drops this spring. With the Buckeyes' lone returning starter at receiver, DeVier Posey, out for the first five games, Brown will need to become a consistent force.

Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State (No. 66 overall, No. 2 position rank): Will Fortt be one of the next great players at Linebacker U.? He saw action in nine games last year, including a start against Illinois in which he recorded 11 tackles. Penn State is loaded at linebacker, but Fortt saw a lot of time with the first-team defense this spring and will be hard to keep out of the lineup this fall.

William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (No. 42 overall, No. 3 position rank)

The Big Ten's highest-rated recruit in 2010 served as the Spartans' backup left end and played in 10 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Minnesota. He collected 13 tackles and a half-sack as a true freshman and had five stops and an assisted tackle for loss against Iowa. The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder should slide into a starting role in 2011.

Jury's still out

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa (No. 82 overall, No. 6 position rank)

Fiedorowicz saw action in all 13 games but did not record a catch as a true freshman as he saw most of his time on special teams. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is expected to back up starter Brad Herman this season but could see time when the Hawkeyes use two tight ends.

Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan (No. 128 overall, No. 5 position rank)

Gardner got to play in three games as a true freshman. He threw for 85 yards and a touchdown against Bowling Green and also ran for a score in that game. Then he hurt his back and missed the rest of the season, and Michigan is hoping to get a medical redshirt year for him. Of course, his opportunities were limited anyway and figure to be the same for the foreseeable future because he's stuck behind another pretty good quarterback. Fella named Denard. You might have heard of him.

Andrew Rodriguez, OG, Nebraska (No. 147 overall, No. 7 position rank)

The 6-foot-6 Rodriguez got his feet wet with five appearances in 2010, becoming the first true freshman to play on the offensive line for Nebraska since 2006. With starting guards Ricky Henry and Keith Williams now departed, there's a good chance Rodriguez fills one of those spots in 2011.

Look out for

Darryl Baldwin, DE, Ohio State (No. 131 overall, No. 13 position rank)

Baldwin took a redshirt year in 2010 and should see some snaps this year, albeit most likely in a backup role.

Miles Dieffenbach, C, Penn State (No. 118 overall, No. 1 position rank)

Dieffenbach redshirted in 2010 as senior Doug Klopacz held down the center spot. Dieffenbach is expected to back up junior Matt Stankiewitch in 2011.

Evan Hailes, DT, Penn State (No. 88 overall, No. 9 position rank)

It may be a while before we know anything about Hailes. He redshirted in 2010, and Joe Paterno said after the spring game that Hailes could miss the entire 2011 season with an undisclosed illness.

James Louis, WR, Ohio State (No. 80 overall, No. 12 position rank)

Louis redshirted in 2010 and was inconsistent this spring, like most of the Buckeyes' young receivers. At least the opportunity for playing time is there.

C.J. Olaniyan, DE, Penn State (No. 148 overall, No. 16 position rank)

Olaniyan redshirted last season and got some first-team reps this spring with starters Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore slowed by injuries. Those two will start when they get healthy, but Olaniyan should see time in the rotation along the defensive front.

Dakota Royer, LB, Penn State (No. 70 overall, No. 7 position rank)

A defensive end in high school, Royer is battling for playing time at the crowded linebacker position with the Nittany Lions. He redshirted in 2010 and will have to fight to get on the field behind an experienced crew this season.

Rod Smith, RB, Ohio State (No. 56 overall, No. 7 position rank)

Smith reported late to preseason camp last year while he worked on some academics and ended up redshirting. Now he's part of a group of tailbacks battling for carries while starter Dan Herron is out for the first five games. The 6-3, 230-pound bruiser impressed during bowl practice last year, had seven carries for 36 yards in the spring game and could become the featured back in Herron's absence. But the running back competition figures to continue into fall camp.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Off-field issues continue to dominate the discussion around Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have plenty to address between the lines.

Not only does Ohio State lose 24 seniors from the 2010 team, but the Buckeyes will be without five players, including four offensive starters, for the first five games this coming season. The cumulative loss in production has coach Jim Tressel calling this his youngest team at Ohio State.

Here are the five players suspended for the first five games of 2011:
* returning starter

Filling these gaps is a primary goal for Ohio State this spring. The team is in good shape at some positions and thinner at others.

Here's a breakdown of the five positions, from the most shaky spot to the most stable.

QUARTERBACK

    [+] EnlargeJoe Bauserman
    AP Photo/Terry GilliamJoe Bauserman is the most experienced of Terrelle Pryor's backups and is the favorite to start.
  • Sidelined: Terrelle Pryor, three-year starter (2010 stats: 210-for-333 passing, 2,772 yards, 27 TDs, 11 INTs, 754 rush yards, 4 TDs)
  • Fill-ins: Joe Bauserman (senior, two-year backup, appeared in every game last season and completed 16 of 22 pass attempts); Kenny Guiton (sophomore, appeared in five games last season and completed 1 of 2 attempts); Taylor Graham (freshman, redshirted in 2010); Braxton Miller (true freshman, enrolled early and participating in spring)
  • The skinny: Quarterback is undoubtedly Ohio State's biggest concern because Pryor has held the starting job since September 2008. Bauserman is a veteran but lacks game experience, while the others essentially have none. Although Bauserman and Guiton have an edge right now in the spring, Graham and especially Miller could close the gap. Guiton and Miller are the most mobile of the group, although Bauserman moves pretty well, too.
  • Quotable: "Braxton is lost. Kenny and Joe have the best grasp on it. Taylor's somewhere in between. We've had four practices. I hope in the next 11, we get a lot more looks that will really make you think, 'OK, this guy.' If I had a game tomorrow, Joe would start, but Kenny has looked good and the two young guys, they're so hesitant because they don't know much, and we have to wait until we get out there and chase them when people are allowed to tackle them." -- Tressel
WIDE RECEIVER

  • Sidelined: DeVier Posey, two-year starter (2010 stats: 53 receptions, 848 yards, 7 TDs)
  • Fill-ins: Corey Brown (sophomore, eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in 2010); Chris Fields (sophomore, three catches for 22 yards in 2010); James Louis (freshman); T.Y. Williams (freshman)
  • The skinny: If the quarterback spot weren't so important, receiver would be Ohio State's most pressing need. Posey, graduating senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and graduating senior running back Brandon Saine accounted for 131 of the team's 228 receptions in 2010. Brown is a good bet to start and Fields could land the other spot in Posey's absence. Ohio State also could use its running backs as receivers more this fall. The 6-foot-5 Williams is an intriguing prospect because of his size. New assistant Stan Drayton has his hands full in his first year.
  • Quotable: "Coach Drayton said DeVier is like Coach Posey now. He knows the offense so well and I'm sure coach Drayton is still getting caught up a little bit." -- center Mike Brewster
LEFT TACKLE

    [+] EnlargeMike Adams
    Greg Bartram/US PresswireLosing Mike Adams for five games will really test Ohio State's O-line depth.
  • Sidelined: Mike Adams, started throughout 2010 season, consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection
  • Fill-ins: Andrew Norwell (sophomore); Marcus Hall (sophomore, redshirted in 2010 because of academic issues); Jack Mewhort (sophomore)
  • The skinny: Overall offensive line depth is an issue for Ohio State this spring, and the lack of bodies could prevent the Buckeyes from having a full-blown spring game. Players are rotating at several spots during practice, and Mewhort and Hall both are in the mix for starting jobs at guard, too. Hall's return should help Ohio State survive without Adams, as hopes were high for Hall before his academic issues last season. Norwell backed up right tackle J.B. Shugarts as a freshman in 2010 and could be the answer during Adams' suspension.
  • Quotable: "We only have 10 linemen right now. We'll get a couple more for [preseason] camp. But I'm really, really impressed by the guys. They've been rotating around, playing left tackle, left guard. It has been encouraging." -- Brewster
DEFENSIVE END

  • Sidelined: Solomon Thomas (2010 stats: 14 tackles and a win-clinching interception in the Sugar Bowl as a reserve)
  • Fill-ins: Nathan Williams (senior, 46 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes defended, one interception in 2010); Adam Bellamy (sophomore, 11 tackles, two tackles for loss in 13 games in 2010); Melvin Fellows (sophomore)
  • The skinny: Ohio State lacks many true defensive ends and will need a big year from Williams, a returning starter, at the rush end position. Thomas likely would have started if not for the suspension, but the Buckeyes have some flexibility up front. Most of Ohio State's defensive linemen play both inside and outside. John Simon, who started last season at defensive tackle, lined up at end for part of Wednesday's practice. Ohio State boasts better depth at the inside position, so players like Simon and Bellamy could see more time on the outside.
  • Quotable: "You've got your Johnny Simons and your Nate Williamses back, and you hope they can be the core and the leadership. They might not be production leaders because of where they are [on the field], but that's where it starts." -- co-defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Luke Fickell
RUNNING BACK

  • Sidelined: Dan Herron, 17 career starts, first-team All-Big Ten in 2010 (2010 stats: 216 carries, 1,155 rush yards, 16 touchdowns, 19 receptions, 180 receiving yards)
  • Fill-ins: Jordan Hall (junior, 37 carries, 161 rush yards, 2 TDs in 2010); Jaamal Berry (sophomore, 32 carries, 266 rush yards, 1 TD in 2010); Carlos Hyde (sophomore, 24 carries, 141 rush yards in 2010); Rod Smith (freshman, redshirted in 2010)
  • The skinny: Of the five positions where Ohio State loses a player to suspension, running back looks to be the strongest by far. Herron had a strong performance in Big Ten play last fall and could be missed, but the Buckeyes should be very deep in the backfield. They have variety in size, skill sets and running styles, and they will be able to give defenses different looks. Hall and Berry both looked good at times last season, and Smith generated a lot of buzz during practices before the Sugar Bowl. Fullback Zach Boren said running backs coach Doc Tressel has noted that the team has seven players capable of starting in the backfield.
  • Quotable: "It's a stable of backs. To me, it's one of the most impressive backfields in the country. All those guys, you can tell they're trying to do the right things because they know whoever's going to have that little edge, they need to make sure they're doing the right things off the field as well. There's so many running backs, it's going to be hard to get them all on the field." -- Brewster
Who will be Ohio State's No. 3 wide receiver this season?

The question has been asked for months, even before Duron Carter's departure from the school in mid June. Ohio State boasts two proven receivers in DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but the team has no other returning wideouts who caught a pass in 2009.

Interested parties wondered if senior Taurian Washington would take charge. Others watched redshirt freshman Chris Fields, who drew strong reviews from the coaching staff after spring ball. And don't forget about guys like Grant Schwartz, James Jackson or even true freshmen like James Louis or Verlon Reed.

[+] EnlargeJake Stoneburner
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOhio State tight end Jake Stoneburner only had two catches last sesaon, but figures to play a bigger part in the offense in 2010.
My take: forget all those names for a second. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor's third option in the passing game this fall doesn't even play wide receiver but ... wait for it ... tight end.

"Oh, yeah," Jake Stoneburner said when asked about filling the No. 3 role. "During camp, they've had some instances where they'll split me out and they’ll have a two-back set with three receivers, and I'm the third receiver out there with Dane and DeVier."

Some people out there must be thinking I can't be serious. An Ohio State tight end being an integral part of the passing game? Jim Tressel would go for fourth-and-8 in his own red zone before featuring a tight end as a pass catcher.

Stoneburner had a grand total of two receptions in 2009, while starting tight end Jake Ballard had only 13. In 2008, Ballard and Rory Nicol combined for 11 receptions all year.

Nicol used to joke about how rarely the ball came his way. Ohio State tight ends used their hands for blocking and not much else.

It's why Stoneburner initially wasn't thrilled about switching from receiver to tight end before last season.

"I knew they didn't get the ball," he said.

What might change in 2010? For starters, Stoneburner is admittedly a pass-first tight end who has made blocking his top offseason priority.

He's a big target at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, and he boasts good speed in the middle of the field. Perhaps most important, Pryor likes to throw him the ball.

"The spring is when I really saw it," Stoneburner said. "We would have plays we normally hadn't run with the tight end running routes, and he's looking at me, like, 'Hey, get open on this. I'll try and get you the ball.' With Terrelle knowing the offense more and being more comfortable out there, he's looking for more targets. With me being able to run good routes and get open, he's looking at me to be one of his primary targets."

A year ago, we heard similar talk about Stoneburner being a bigger part of the passing game, and it never happened. But Pryor spread the ball around a bit better in the Rose Bowl and has continued to do so in practice.

Plus, Stoneburner has developed his game.

"I want to be an every-down tight end, and you've got to be able to block and catch the ball," he said. "I felt like with my speed and athleticism, I'll always be able to get open and catch the ball, but I really had to work on my strength, knowing the defense, knowing who to block when and footwork and that kind of stuff."

Stoneburner agrees that Ohio State needs more than two reliable receivers this fall. But Pryor should have more options, regardless of the position they play.

"We've got a lot more weapons," Stoneburner said. "The running backs can catch the ball just as good as the receivers and tight ends, so having all that come together at once, it's going to lead us to being able to do more things with our offense."

Ohio State recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
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Ohio State Buckeyes

The class

Recruits: 18 (16 high school seniors, two prep school players, one player enrolled already)

Top prospects: Defensive back Christian Bryant should see the field early. Running back Roderick Smith could be a factor as the starting job remains a bit unsettled. Linemen Darryl Baldwin and Andrew Norwell and wide receivers James Louis and Corey Brown also come in with plenty of accolades.

Sleepers: Speedy Bradley Roby is a late signee who only gained major attention in recruiting after switching from wide receiver to cornerback as a senior. Quarterback Taylor Graham struggled with injuries in high school but has a good pedigree as the son of former NFL QB Kent Graham. Defensive tackle Johnathon Hankins is a big body on the interior.

Needs met: Ohio State addressed a mini need in the secondary with Bryant and Roby. The Buckeyes would have liked one more offensive lineman -- Seantrel Henderson or Matt James -- but they added depth at both wide receiver and running back.

Analysis: Ohio State might not have hit a home run with this class, and the Buckeyes lost a few key in-state products to other teams, namely Jordan Hicks. But Jim Tressel and his staff brought in plenty of speed and versatility, and added several key wide receivers who could contribute early following graduation losses and Lamaar Thomas' transfer. Unless Henderson dumps USC in the coming weeks, Ohio State will need to add more offensive linemen in the 2011 class.

Scouts Inc. grade: B

What Jim Tressel said:

  • "If you asked coach [Jim] Bollman how many offensive linemen he would have liked, we had pigeonholed two. He probably would have liked three or four, but we could afford two within our budget. So we'll see how we end up there."
  • "With the way the game has changed, you need so many guys who can play out in space. In this class, we have a lot of guys with skills and speed."

Ohio State announces 18-man class

February, 3, 2010
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Ohio State has announced the signings of 18 recruits, including four ESPNU 150 prospects.

The team's news release doesn't include offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, who will announce his college choice shortly. Most reports have named USC as the leader for Henderson, so Ohio State might go 0-for-2 on heralded offensive line prospects (Notre Dame-bound Matt James being the other). The Buckeyes class includes nine in-state prospects, two from both Pennsylvania and Florida, and one from Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and North Carolina.

Ohio State addressed a need at wide receiver with four players, including James Louis, who stuck with the Buckeyes over North Carolina. Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby should provide help in the secondary.

I realize this class won't get Ohio State fans too fired up, but things will improve, especially in 2011. Another run to a BCS bowl game, possibly the national championship, would help as well.
The news cycle starts very early on national signing day, and there are already a few notable Big Ten tidbits.

  • Safety Corey Cooper, who originally committed to Illinois but reopened his recruitment, will play his college ball for Bo Pelini at Nebraska, SI.com reports. Cooper would have been one of the top players in Illinois' class, which won't earn high marks this year. Cooper, who will make his official announcement at 11 a.m. ET, told SI.com that "nowhere else could beat Nebraska." Illinois recently added several defensive backs to its class, but always wants to keep top in-state players like Cooper (Maywood, Ill.) at home.
  • Ohio State received 10 national letters of intent this morning, perhaps none more important than the one from wide receiver James Louis. Louis had verbally committed to the Buckeyes but was being pursued by other schools. He had also indicated on his Facebook page that he wanted to join high school teammate Donnell Kirkwood at Minnesota. Running back Carlos Hyde, a 2009 prospect who spent some time at Fork Union Military Academy to improve his grades, enrolled at Ohio State this spring, also will be part of this class.
  • Michigan ended up signing defensive lineman Terry Talbott after all. Talbott verbally committed to the Wolverines last summer but strongly considered North Carolina leading up to signing day.

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