NFL Nation: Ali Highsmith

Cardinals' linebackers minus Foote

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
12:11
PM ET
The Cardinals' pursuit of Larry Foote ended Monday when the free-agent linebacker agreed to terms with the Steelers.

The list of available inside linebackers with experience in 3-4 schemes appears weak.

I see none worth strong consideration on the updated list of unrestricted free agents, which I'll make available shortly.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals Linebacker
Age Status
Chike Okeafor 32 Signed
Clark Haggans
32 Signed
Monty Beisel
30 UFA
Victor Hobson
29 Signed
Gerald Hayes
28 Signed
Karlos Dansby
27 Signed
Ali Highsmith
24 Signed
Pago Togafau
23 Signed

The Cardinals have re-signed four of their own unrestricted free agents after Clark Haggans accepted a three-year deal.

The other NFC West teams have each re-signed two UFAs.

Haggans, 32, provides depth and leadership at linebacker. He is also coming off a foot injury that ended his 2008 season early.

The chart lists the Cardinals' linebackers from oldest to youngest.

Chike Okeafor's ability to stay healthy proved important for Arizona last season. He started 16 games after missing the 2007 season. He previously had not missed a game since 2001.

 
 Larry French/Getty Images
 Will Arizona's defense, which has been wildly inconsistent this season, be able to slow Atlanta's dynamic rushing attack?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Arizona Cardinals' defense defies simple categorization heading into a wild-card playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Only the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs allowed more points than the Cardinals during the regular season.

Then you realize the Cardinals allowed 35 percent of those points in three games. And each of those three games carried its own mitigating factors.

The New York Jets put up 56 points on the Cardinals in Week 4, but Arizona was playing without Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson -- the heart, soul and enforcer of its defense.

The Philadelphia Eagles put up 48 points against the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night, but how many Western teams would have played well after a cross-country trip on a short week, with a division title all but clinched and with the Eagles in desperation mode days after benching quarterback Donovan McNabb?

The New England Patriots put up 47 points on the Cardinals in a Week 16 snowstorm, but only one team was fighting for its playoff life, and Arizona was not that team.

In sifting through additional evidence, you realize the Cardinals were one of six teams this season to hold the Dallas Cowboys below 25 points when Tony Romo was starting. The other five teams happened to rank first through fifth in yards allowed per game this season. They were: top-ranked Pittsburgh, second-ranked Baltimore, third-ranked Philadelphia, fourth-ranked Washington and the fifth-ranked New York Giants.

That qualifies as decent company for the Cardinals, who ranked 19th.

As Arizona prepares for offensive rookie of the year Matt Ryan on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium, does anyone recall what happened the last time Arizona faced a quarterback in his first two NFL seasons?

Trent Edwards doesn't remember, but Buffalo Bills fans certainly do.

Wilson, one of the best in the NFL at disguising blitzes, knocked out Edwards with such ferocity that the quarterback left the game with a concussion, the league levied a $25,000 fine against Wilson and some wondered if Edwards ever recovered. The Bills lost that game and eight of their remaining 11 after entering University of Phoenix Stadium with a 4-0 record.

Yet, after the Cardinals built a 17-3 lead against the Carolina Panthers in Week 8, they allowed two touchdowns in a 46-second span of the third quarter before losing, 27-23.

Oh, well. At least the Cardinals never allowed 408 yards to the 2008 St. Louis Rams, as the Falcons did in Week 17. The Rams hadn't gained that many yards in their previous 19 games. They hadn't rushed for as many yards -- 202 -- since Week 16 of the 2004 season, a span of 64 games.

Not that the Cardinals can necessarily brag about air-tight run defense. They appeared helpless against the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson.

And yet the Cardinals held nine other opponents below 90 net yards rushing. The Giants became the fourth team in NFL history to produce two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season, but they struggled for 87 yards on 27 carries against the Cardinals. Only the Steelers and Cowboys held the Giants to fewer yards on the ground this season.

In attempting to make sense of the Cardinals' defense and its chances against the Falcons' dynamic rushing attack, I polled Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and safety Antrel Rolle. I asked Wilson and outside linebacker Chike Okeafor about potential scheme changes since Whisenhunt arrived last season. And I threw open the topic for discussion in our most recent Hot Topic item on the blog.

A few theories emerged.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer takes an in-depth look at problems facing the Seahawks. Injurires stand out as the primary problem, but conservative coaching and poor drafting also make the list.

Also from Farnsworth: An "F" grade for the secondary at the season's midpoint.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune lists defensive ends who tried out with the Seahawks while Patrick Kerney was undergoing surgery. Patrick Chukwurah, Sean Conover, Angelo Craig, Kevin Huntley and Al Wallace made the list.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times grades the Seahawks on a pass-fail basis. The passing game has failed, in other words.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' renewed hopes might have come unraveled during the final four minutes of the second quarter Sunday.

Also from Thomas: A chat transcript in which he points out how the Rams have played the most difficult schedule in the NFC so far this season.

Brian Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jim Haslett's changed approach with Steven Jackson shows a capacity to learn from mistakes.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Ali Highsmith's season-ending injury will affect the Cardinals' special teams. 

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says Kurt Warner is an MVP candidate even though some people questioned whether he should be the starter.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains why Tim Hightower replaced Edgerrin James as the Cardinals' starting running back. Hightower fits the offense better.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at how many times the 49ers have targeted receivers in the passing game. Isaac Bruce leads the way. Vernon Davis has caught a high percentage of the relatively few passes thrown his way.

Also from Maiocco: A look at voting tendencies among 49ers players and how opinions broke along racial and financial lines.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers conducted a spirited practice Tuesday.

Also from Barrows: An extended version of the same report.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are working with Chilo Rachal, a player they think can make the offensive line more physical. Rachal appreciates the support.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic takes a stab at the Cardinals' 53-man roster. He favors Sean Morey over Lance Long for the sixth receiving spot. He saves a spot for Pat Ross because the team is low on depth at center. He can't find a spot for Joe Tafoya. He makes room for Monty Beisel and Ali Highsmith.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says safety Eric Bassey might have earned a roster spot after forcing a fumble in the Rams' final exhibition game. I figured Bassey would make it anyway given depth issues in the secondary. Center Nick Leckey was the only projected opening-day starter to play for the Rams in this game.

Also from Thomas: Running back Steven Jackson can void the final two years of his new six-year deal by averaging 1,200 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving over the first four seasons.

And this from Thomas: The Rams' radio headsets did not work against the Chiefs. Coach Scott Linehan: "We are running plays like they do in high school."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' special teams struggled against the Chiefs. That can happen with so many backups playing. Kicker Josh Brown missed a 40-yard field-goal try. That would have been no big deal in the past, but money changes everything. Coats: "In a downpour, Brown pushed the ball wide right, a rare miss for the highest-paid kicker in NFL history."

Also from Coats: Marques Hagans caught four passes for 47 yards in a last-ditch effort to secure a roster spot at receiver.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with the Seahawks' bubble players. The situation at receiver continues to intrigue. Farnsworth expects Bobby Engram and Deion Branch to miss the regular-season opener.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune expects Justin Forsett to play extensively with the Seattle starters tonight. The rookie running back has been working with the first unit in practice this week. Forsett appears headed to the practice squad if the Seahawks cut him.

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times describes Seahawks receiver Ben Obomanu as confident despite weak preseason stats. Obomanu, who is on the bubble for a job at receiver, put it this way: "Catching passes in a preseason game doesn't always tell the story of whether you're doing a good job." Obomanu caught eight passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the 2007 exhibition season. Each of those figures led the team. He earned a roster spot but was not active for the regular-season opener.

Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star covered Trent Green's return to Arrowhead Stadium, but there wasn't much to see. The Rams gave Green three snaps, then replaced him with Brock Berlin.

Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read takes a closer look at the team's receivers. How bad were they last season? Well, three NFL players finished with more receiving yards than the 49ers as a team in 2007. Brown lists the current receivers in this order: Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Arnaz Battle, Josh Morgan, Ashley Lelie, Jason Hill, Dominique Zeigler, Cam Colvin, Jerard Rabb and Robert Ortiz. I might put them in this order: Bruce, Battle, Johnson, Morgan, Hill and Lelie. And I do think the 49ers want to keep six, a good number for the Mike Martz offense.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider projects five receivers hanging around on the 49ers' cutdown to 53 players. At other positions, he expects Moran Norris and Marcus Hudson to miss the cut.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee outlines positions of interest heading into the 49ers' final exhibition game: receiver, fullback, outside linebacker and defensive back. He thinks Roderick Green and Tully Banta-Cain will stick around.

Also from Barrows: an in-depth look at the 49ers' defensive linemen. He sticks up for rookie first-round choice Kentwan Balmer. I see his point. Balmer plays a low-profile position (defensive end in a 3-4 scheme). He's not going to gain much notice even if he's playing well. Ask Bryant Young. He became invisible when the 49ers went from 4-3 to 3-4, but that didn't mean he was playing poorly. The position simply specializes in grunt work.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says this is a brutal time of the year for players on the bubble. But as J.T. O'Sullivan has proved, persistence can pay off. NFL teams have waived O'Sullivan five times, Maiocco notes.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' starting offense might play only a series in the exhibition finale. FitzGerald's bubble players include: Norris, Thomas Clayton, Ashley Lelie, Roderick Green, Larry Grant, Marcus Hudson, Zeigler and Brian de la Puente.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the Rams' depth at receiver, noting that Marques Hagans, Brandon Williams, Derek Stanley and Reche Caldwell might not earn spots on the 53-man roster. Thomas sees veteran Dane Looker as the likely sixth receiver.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses Adam Goldberg's value to the Rams as an offensive lineman with experience at all five spots. Goldberg has started at left tackle recently, giving Orlando Pace a rest. The photo accompanying this story doesn't inspire confidence, but coach Scott Linehan says Goldberg has played well this summer.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat checks in with backup Rams quarterback Trent Green, who will start the final exhibition game -- against the Chiefs, one of his former teams. Green needs the work after attempting only eight passes during the first three exhibition games.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Jerry Rice as "expecting [49ers rookie receiver Josh Morgan] to do some great things this year."

Also from Brown: Ashley Lelie's uncertain future heading toward the 53-man cutdown. Lelie has 21 career receptions of at least 40 yards. Can he be a deep threat in Mike Martz's offense?

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers haven't seen enough from their receivers to know how they'll react during the regular season. Injuries and even illness have kept players off the field. Morgan will miss the final exhibition game.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle describes 49ers guard Tony Wragge as an inspiration to players fighting for roster spots. The Cardinals cut him three times. Wragge played in the Arena League and even took a job at Home Depot before finally earning a spot with the 49ers.

Frank Hughes of Seahawks Insider expects Justin Forsett to get plenty of work in the final exhibition game. Forsett might need an impressive performance to earn a roster spot. The practice squad could be the most likely option.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with new Seahawks long snapper Jeff Robinson, who isn't very new at all. The way Boling breaks it down, Robinson could earn more than $5,000 per snap this season. Boling: "The fact that his wife is a physical therapist and dietician is a key to his readiness, he said. While she's busy running their business, a wellness center named '5focus' on South Lake Union, Robinson has been staying nimble by chasing down their 16-month-old daughter, Mae Louise. It should enhance his coverage skills."

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune saw Seahawks center Chris Spencer fall down twice while making routine blocks in his first practice back from injury. Spencer expects to make his preseason debut Friday night against Oakland.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks signed Robinson to snap after Tim Lindsey suffered a back injury against the Chargers on Monday night. Lindsey had replaced Tyler Schmitt, who also suffered a back injury.

Also from Farnsworth: highlights from practice, including two touchdown catches by John Carlson. The rookie tight end could have a big season.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune breaks down the Cardinals' position battles at receiver and linebacker. Sean Morey, Jamaica Rector and Lance Long could be fighting for the sixth receiving spot. Ali Highsmith, Brandon Moore, Matt Stewart and Monty Beisel could be fighting for two spots at linebacker.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals feel good about third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre, who learned the offense with Pittsburgh and has completed 76.7 percent of his passes during the exhibition season.

Also from Somers: Kurt Warner gets the start in the final exhibition game. Still no announcement on who starts the regular-season opener, but giving Warner time with the first-team offense puts him in a favorable position.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Brian Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need Steven Jackson in camp as soon as possible. Burwell: "This is a franchise in dire need of star quality because without Jackson, they will not only be horrible, they'll be frighteningly uninteresting and flirting dangerously with downright insignificance in a fragile sports marketplace."

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks need receiver Courtney Taylor to produce while Bobby Engram recovers from injury. Also: Cornerback Marcus Trufant lost a contact lens during a collision with running back T.J. Duckett.

Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald says Taylor has the ability to bring big things to the Seattle offense. Mike Holmgren on Taylor: "Courtney's a pretty explosive guy. He's got great skill. He's fast. I mean, his athletic ability is special."

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune expects Matt Leinart to remain in the game for the Cardinals during red-zone situations. Kurt Warner replaced Leinart in certain situations last season, but Leinart is much better equipped to handle all aspects of the offense, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals want more consistency from kicker Neil Rackers, who needs to better control his emotions. Whisenhunt says the decision to release Rackers' holder last season affected Rackers more than the coach anticipated. It's always refreshing when head coaches take responsibility.

Also from Somers: Rookie Ali Highsmith is impressing at linebacker.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides a transcript from Takeo Spikes' first interview as a member of the 49ers. Spikes on playing strong inside linebacker: "The good thing about it, I played that position late in my career in Buffalo. But just defense, I played just defense my first four years in the league with Cincinnati, so that's why I'm familiar with it."

Also from Barrows: J.T. O'Sullivan keeps getting first-team reps at quarterback (hmmmm).

And this: More on Spikes and his role in the defense.

Brian Chu of the San Francisco Chronicle counted a combined five interceptions for 49ers quarterbacks Alex Smith and J.T. O'Sullivan in practice. Also: Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich will see more playing time on special teams, coach Mike Nolan said. Ulbrich has been a starting inside linebacker, but newly signed Takeo Spikes is expected to take his job.

Darren Sabedra of the San Jose Mercury News says Spikes was with his 5-year-old daughter at a carnival when his agent called with news of the 49ers' renewed interest in him. Meanwhile, Ulbrich is taking the high road when asked about the player most likely to reduce his playing time: "Takeo is a great football player and a good addition to this team. (However) it turns out, we'll all be better for it. He'll push me. I'll push him. If my role changes from defense to special teams, then I'll embrace that. If defense is where I'm asked to play, then I'll embrace that as well." 

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat breaks down the 49ers' offensive struggles in practice. The quarterback competition invites an in-depth analysis of every move the offense makes, and the results have not been pretty. Nolan: "If you do have one guy and you know it, obviously, you give him about two-thirds of the reps and the (No. 2 quarterback) gets the other ones. But in our case, we don't know (have an established quarterback). We're going through the process."

Also from Maiocco: O'Sullivan's increased reps with the offense appear to be more than coincidental. O'Sullivan appears increasingly comfortable in the role.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams coach Scott Linehan as saying players showed up for practice with "a chip on their shoulder" after an unimpressive showing in the exhibition opener. Coats: "The team went at it for nearly two hours in perhaps the most physical workout since the team convened at Concordia University some 18 days ago."

Also from Coats: Third-round rookie John Greco worked at tackle for the injured Brandon Gorin, while nickel back Ron Bartell worked at safety in place of O.J. Atogwe and Jerome Carter.

And this: With ticket sales lagging, the Rams want to win their home opener against San Diego, even though it's only preseason. Coats says the Rams should leave key players in the game until they produce.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covers Dick Vermeil's return to a Rams practice. Vermeil: "Hey, just being around here, I miss it. I don't miss the days I got my (butt) beat. I don't miss the days I worried about some guy holding out. I don't miss the days walking off with some guy who had a serious knee (injury). But I miss all the other things. I miss the coaches. And I miss the players."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune examines Steve Vallos' rise from Seahawks afterthought to potential starting center. Boling on how Vallos fared in the exhibition opener: "He was hardly perfect, but he got the job done, played with high effort and enthusiasm, and showed a great deal of promise." Boling knows the subject better than he lets on. He was long snapper and starting center at Louisville during the Lee Corso years.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times sees opportunity for younger receivers now that Seattle's Bobby Engram is injured. Brewer: "Like all good NFL teams, the Seahawks have shown the ability to withstand injuries the past four seasons. Even last season, the offense survived for long stretches without its starting
running back (Shaun Alexander), two wide receivers (Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett), and a spent tight end (Marcus Pollard)."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sizes up Seahawks rookie running back Justin Forsett as tougher than his diminutive frame might indicate. Forsett has performed well during camp so far. A strong exhibition season could force the Seahawks to consider keeping him. At practice the other day, I asked Mike Holmgren about the numbers at running back. He said they usually go with a combined 11 players at running back and receiver (six of one, five of the other). Forsett would likely be the sixth running back if Seattle kept that many. Jordan Kent might be the sixth receiver if Seattle kept that many.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee explains why J.T. O'Sullivan appeals to 49ers coach Mike Nolan. The quarterback's businesslike demeanor and command of the offense set him apart from the other quarterbacks in camp. The team wants to see how that translates from the practice field to a live situation.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle compares the 49ers' quarterback auditions to American Idol, minus Paula Abdul. Former starter Alex Smith is the second quarterback. Smith: "It's weird. It's certainly different. Even today, not taking reps with the ones (the first team, in the last practice before a game) is something different."

Also from FitzGerald: Niners receiver Isaac Bruce might not play in the exhibition opener at Oakland Friday. The team wants Bruce rested for the regular season. Fellow receivers Bryant Johnson (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) are resting injuries. Keep an eye on rookie receiver Josh Morgan and second-year receiver Jason Hill.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune describes Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart as even better than his impressive stat line. I'll have more on Leinart later this morning.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic singled out several Cardinals for praise following the team's exhibition opener against the Saints. Somers: "Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his third year, was sharp. Receiver Steve Breaston, in his second season, was dynamic. And a handful of rookies, including running back Tim Hightower, defensive end Calais Campbell and linebacker Ali Highsmith, turned in some big plays."

Also from Somers: Highs and lows from the Cardinals' performance. Rookie defensive end Kenny Iwebema had a sack. From what I saw, Iwebema appeared active.

Also from Somers, II: A notebook with items about the Cardinals' penalty problems and coach Ken Whisenhunt's belief that Arizona has better depth than the score might indicate. The Saints outscored the Cardinals by a 17-0 count in the second half. Arizona's depth is an issue.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic channels comedian Jeff Foxworthy with a column entitled, "You might be a Redbird if ..." Sample material: "If the Bears are who you thought they were, you might be a Redbird." Be sure to check out the comments on this one. As reader Chocolatemilk countered: "If you're making reference to a comedy bit from 1992 in a 2008 sports story, you might be Bob Young." Not bad.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com singles out Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban among those Cardinals to play well against New Orleans. On the flip side, free safety Antrel Rolle muffed a punt while getting work as a return specialist.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune points out the Cardinals' 0-5 record in exhibition games under Whisenhunt. But with Leinart's strong showing, the team doesn't have to worry about increased calls for backup Kurt Warner, who did not play against the Saints.

Eric Williams of Seahawks Insider breaks down some key matchups and opportunities for Seattle players entering the exhibition opener at Minnesota. He wonders if Kyle Williams' development might make it tough for injury-plagued offensive lineman Floyd Womack to earn a roster spot this summer. A fair question.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks have brought a fatter playbook to camp, giving the offense a better chance against a veteran defense returning all 11 starters. Also: Former Cowboys running back Julius Jones is fired up about finally getting into a game situation with his new team. That would be a Texas-sized chip on Jones' shoulder.

Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the NFL borrowed from the Seahawks for its recently released policy on fan behavior at games. Years ago, I remember sitting in the stands at the L.A. Coliseum while marijuana smoke wafted through the stands. I also remember sitting behind a fan wearing an expletive-laden sign telling then-Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer what to do with himself. The environment was rated NC-17. The Seahawks' motto for fan behavior is, "Keep it PG."

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks aren't saying how much quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will play against the Vikings tonight. Hasselbeck suffered a knee injury playing against the Vikings in 2006. He wasn't happy with Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson, the player who rolled into his legs.

Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says former Browns quarterback Charlie Frye hasn't forgotten what happened to him in Cleveland after only one game last season. Hasselbeck helped Frye adjust upon arriving in Seattle. Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell on the Seahawks No. 3 quarterback: "He's a very smart guy and he wants to be a good player, but the system takes awhile to learn. Trent Dilfer had a tough time with it. Matt had a little bit of a tough time with it. But (Frye) can definitely throw, so we'll go from there."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the Rams liked what they saw during practices with the Titans. Coach Scott Linehan liked how the Rams stood up to the Titans during a fight-marred practice session.

Jim Thomas of the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
was there when former Titans Drew Bennett and Jacob Bell, now with the Rams, caught up with their former teammates.

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