NFL Nation: Chris Cooley

Cooley, Redskins rave about Sean McVay

January, 11, 2014
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ASHBURN, Va. -- When they had a question, Sean McVay had an answer. That sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s one thing for a position coach to know an offense; it’s another to know what everyone must do – and their adjustments.

The Redskins' tight ends liked that McVay would know – and wouldn’t hesitate.

“There’s no indecision, ‘This is what we do; this is how we do it,’" Logan Paulsen said. “There’s no gray area in my life, which is fantastic. Making sure the player knows what he has to do puts us in a great position. ... You have certain coaches who don’t like when you ask questions. They don’t know the offense spot on.”

That’s why players would be happy if McVay is elevated to offensive coordinator for new coach Jay Gruden. Though Gruden said he will interview other candidates, McVay still is considered the likely new choice. He’s young, only 27, but he also has impressed players because of his knowledge of the offense. Gruden said he will call the plays, so that could make it easier for a young coach such as McVay to ease into an expanded role.

“His ability to digest a game plan and give it to his players in a streamlined manner allows us to digest us efficiently making sure to emphasize details that are important,” Paulsen said. “Every week he’d try to call plays without looking at the sheet. He knows what everyone has to do on the field. He approached it like an offensive coordinator. That’s advantageous to a player. He knows every detail the same way Kyle [Shanahan] used to know the details. He has that big-picture mindset that helps out.”

Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley played one and a half seasons under McVay.

“He had the highest understanding of an offense of any position coach I’ve ever been around,” Cooley said. “We’d go back and forth in meetings on scheme, why and how. There was always an answer. I love that in a coach.

“Two years ago I said if anyone becomes a head coach on this staff it would be Sean McVay.”

Players at other positions echoed what Paulsen and Cooley said. The tight ends often worked with the linemen in practice because they needed to be in tandem with their blocking.

“The relationships he has with players and what he gets out of a player with both effort and production on the field by not being a screamer,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “He’s a guy you can relate to. He has a lot of shared characteristics with hard-working players. Players can see if a guy knows what he’s talking about and he goes about it the right way getting that type of effort out of his players.”

RG III gets a fresh start

January, 9, 2014
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Robert Griffin III was part of the lure, making the Washington Redskins' head-coaching job a little more attractive to Jay Gruden. One thought from his side: If he could turn Andy Dalton into a productive passer, what could he do with Griffin?

He's about to find out. And it will take both of them to make it work.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Michael Perez/AP PhotoRobert Griffin III gets to push the reset button early on in his Redskins career, but he must buy into what Jay Gruden will sell.
For Griffin, it's a fresh start, a break from a regime that, in the end, he did not embrace -- and wasn't sure if it embraced him. After he was benched, Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said Wednesday night on Fox Sports, Griffin told teammates that he didn't think coach Mike Shanahan liked him. We don't need to rehash all those issues right now; suffice it to say trouble started brewing late last season, simmered in the offseason, and resurfaced during the summer and season. It could have worked had the Skins won. But a bad start and inconsistent play only made it worse.

Regardless, Griffin needed a change, potentially a refreshing one for him. Now he'll get a coach who some say does a good job selling what he wants done. Now he has two coaches with even-keel demeanors in Gruden and Sean McVay, assuming McVay will be the offensive coordinator, as we hear will happen. That matters. It also helps that McVay already knows Griffin and that Gruden was a successful college quarterback.

Will it work? Don't know. But these are reasons why it could.

For Griffin, he'll need to buy into what is being sold. Though he ran everything the previous staff asked him to, there was doubt as to whether he ever bought in. When that's the case, you can only improve so much. If Gruden gets him to buy in, Griffin could have a blast. But Griffin can't just assume his rookie success will return because the Shanahans are gone. He does have to buy in; he does have to mature as a professional. Of course he does; he's only 23.

Here's what Gruden's agent, Bob LaMonte, said that was one of the factors that convinced Gruden to take the job: "As he analyzed the four jobs, the quarterback he found the most intriguing would be [Griffin] because he has such big upside to him."

Let the love affair commence. Again. But Gruden must convince Griffin what he's doing is for the best.

"The biggest thing for him and Gruden is instilling confidence in the offense," said former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, now part of their game-day broadcast . "That's what they have to do with Robert. If they make him feel confident as a player, then they'll love him. That's what he lacked more than anything. It was the continued doubt of what he could do and what he should do in this offense. They have to confidently say, you can be the best quarterback in the league.

"Everyone saw him struggle with that [this season]. He didn't trust himself."

Griffin will have plenty to prove after his reputation took a pounding this season. Is he a diva? Is he a leader? When you speak to players about him, they recognize that he has to mature, that he has to accept more blame for bad plays. There were definite concerns about whether he saw himself as entitled -- and that's why some feared what might happen if they hired his college coach, Art Briles.

But one player who expressed all of these fears also stressed this: "I like Robert."

I heard frustration about things, but not hostility. When you're 3-13, frustration erupts. It's certainly not something that can't be mended with a strong (and low-key) offseason, a lot of hard work and on-field success. Watch how fast the frustration then melts away.

Griffin was given a quick reset on his career. He'll be healthy entering next season. He'll have a new coach, a new chance to build the trust he lacked over the past year. This is what he needed and wanted. There's no more drama. Now he just has to produce.

Cooley weighs in on both Shanahans

December, 7, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- When Chris Cooley was a rookie, it was clear to him -- and anyone else with eyes and ears for that matter -- that two players did not want to be in Washington. Laveraneus Coles and Rod Gardner complained quite a bit about then-coach Joe Gibbs. It was not a healthy situation.

“They hated what Gibbs did,” Cooley said. “It was hard as a young player to have them complain every day. As a young player I look at vets saying, ‘this isn’t right.’ It was right, it just had to be guys that bought in.”

And that led him to the Redskins’ current state and the decision that ultimately must be made.

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John McDonnell/Getty ImagesChris Cooley isn't reluctant to speak out about the way Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan have developed the team.
“If you have big players or players you consider leaders who say, ‘Yeah bring Mike back,’ and young guys who buy in then that’s all you need,” Cooley said.

Cooley had a lot to say about his current job in this Friday Conversation. He also had something to add about two coaches in particular -- Mike and Kyle Shanahan. He considers Mike Shanahan a friend; he’s high on Kyle Shanahan as a coordinator. Real high.

I’ll let Cooley’s words carry the day, so here’s his take on what should go into the decision to retain Mike Shanahan.

“It’s fully his relationship with the owner [Dan Snyder] and the direction the owner thinks it’s going, combined with Bruce [Allen]. They know him better than anyone. Mike has a personal relationship with people and a professional relationship. If he has a personal enough relationship with those guys and they understand who he is and what’s going on, then he stays. I love the idea of continuity and I also want continuity among people who want it to grow. If Mike can show the owner that these players do buy in and like the scheme, then bring him back. I’m interested how far it should go. When I was first here Dan would talk to players about what they think. I know he hasn’t done that in a few years. It might be the year to bring in guys like Pierre Garcon or Logan Paulsen and asks them, ‘Tell me what you think about this situation. I want to make the right choice.’

“There’s an atmosphere that can breed success or one that you don’t want to play in…. We’re not far away from winning a Super Bowl. That’s hard for anyone to believe, but that’s the truth. It could be a couple offseason moves and something meshes and you win 12 games. Look at the Chiefs and Panthers. If you think the continuity is there and good and the owner understands what’s [happened], then you bring him back. If you don’t believe in that, it’s not what the media thinks and it’s not about Dan’s image and it’s not about anything with Robert… It’s his believe they are moving the right way.”

And now here’s what he had to say about Kyle Shanahan as a play caller and coordinator.

“As a coordinator, this is the only offense I ever had that truly made sense. I don’t know, man. I think the play calling has been fantastic and the players haven’t executed those plays. It’s not all the time on the players, but I’ve seen play-action and Robert made overthrows. How is the call bad if the play isn’t executed? He does a good job giving confidence to players. I was always 100 percent bought in. I trusted Kyle and I like what he did. I don’t think he grab-bags. I think he gets fascinated with the idea that he is manipulating the defense to get coverages he wants when maybe he isn’t. … It’s hard for a coordinator to just do what works over and over again. I never coordinated and don’t know how hard that would be, but they spend a lot of time drawing up plays and getting to a defense and they want to get to them and I don’t know that you have to. When Gibbs was here we weren’t prolific, so maybe I’m wrong but he had no problem with having just 20 plays in a playbook and just having different ways to get to them. I thought we were pretty physical and pretty good but I do buy into Kyle and I like what he does. I think it’s killing him that Mike’s here because of how he gets portrayed in our media. I think he’s a heck of a coordinator… Kyle is doing an unbelievable job helping Robert grow and getting plays he can execute. Guys believe in Kyle. The players believe in Kyle offensively. I know that. And that’s important. The other thing I know is guys like [Jim Haslett]. There’s never been any rumblings from guys like, ‘[Screw] Haz.’ They like our coordinators.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- At the age of 37, not having seen the Super Bowl since his fourth season, veteran linebacker London Fletcher signed a two-year deal to return to the Washington Redskins. He had spent the previous five years with the Redskins, who had a composite record of 32-48 over that time and had made exactly one playoff appearance. But there was much about the place that drew him back. He liked the way he fit into the defense. He felt he'd been treated well by ownership and the coaching staff. And he couldn't escape the feeling that, if he left now, he might miss something.

"You put so much into it and you've gone through a lot of the losses," Fletcher told me in June. "You don't want to leave and then all of a sudden the thing kicks around and you're like, 'Shoot, I missed it.' I wanted to return, it was just a matter of getting a deal done."

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsLondon Fletcher's loyalty to the Redskins is being rewarded this season with a run to the playoffs.
So return he did. And of all the players in the Redskins locker room, there are few who are getting more enjoyment out of the fact that this year's team just went 10-6 and is preparing to host a playoff game Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

"Definitely, I'm appreciating this a lot more," Fletcher said. "You think about this group, this team and what we were able to accomplish, being 3-6 at one point during this season and then making the playoffs. I can say I'm enjoying this a lot more and I'm more appreciative of it because I realize how difficult it is to make the playoffs now."

There's also something special about making it here. The Redskins were once one of the NFL's flagship franchises -- a three-time Super Bowl champion with one of the most intensely loyal fan bases in sports. That fan base has remained passionate and loyal throughout a terrible and lengthy downturn. Until Sunday, the Redskins had not won a division title since 1999 and had only made the playoffs three times in 19 years. But the players who have played for the Redskins during this stretch -- guys like Fletcher, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Lorenzo Alexander -- they always felt something special about the place. Whether it was the fans or the history or the town, there was something that pulled these guys back -- a feeling that it would be better to stick it out and win here than to go off somewhere else and join an extant winner.

"Anytime you become a part of the team and the community, a sense of loyalty sets in," said Pro Bowl linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who's been a Redskin since 2006. "And when you're in it and it's not going well, you want to change it and be a part of that change. This is a team that's been pretty bad the last six, seven years, and now you get to be a part of that change. I think it's a little bit more memorable that way than if you go and sign with a team that wins all the time. I think you appreciate it a little bit more."

Look at Cooley, the veteran tight end who grew up a Redskins fan, has played here since 2004 and rushed right back midseason in spite of getting cut in August and being promised no significant role.

"I never had any doubt this would be a great place to win," Cooley said.

Look at Moss, who re-signed in 2011 and whipped himself into better physical shape this offseason after the coaches told him his roster spot was in jeopardy.

"This place is home. It becomes your home," Moss said. "So you feel like you're playing not just for yourself, but for this whole community that wants it so bad. And that's something extra."

There is something extra about winning as a Redskin, especially after the franchise went so long without anything to cheer. There's no way to know how long the current ride will last. It could end Sunday or it could take the Redskins all the way to New Orleans and the Super Bowl. But the special feeling around here is that of a corner turned -- a bright hope for the future behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and all of the new pieces Mike Shanahan has added the past two offseasons. The Redskins who have slogged through the bad years feel great about this very good year because they think it's the first of many to come.

"I think you feel a culture change, which is what was needed around here," Alexander said. "And when you go through the down times and you can be a part of that kind of culture change, it's very satisfying, I would say."

Memories of Sean Taylor

November, 27, 2012
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It was five years ago today that Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died after a shooting at his home. Taylor's death was one of the most shocking and affecting in recent sports history, and the memory of it still resonates strongly and emotionally with Taylor's fans, friends and former teammates. This video tribute includes insights from former college and professional teammates Antrel Rolle, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Chris Cooley and Santana Moss as well as Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who smiles as he remembers Portis badgering him to draft Taylor.

I remember hearing of Taylor's death, of course. I was a baseball writer at the time, but anyone who followed sports even tangentially heard the story, and no one could get their arms around it in a way that made any sense. Five years later, as I heard today from fans, watched the video and read the columns by those who were covering the story at the time, it's clear that Taylor's death is still affecting a large number of people.

Rolle talks about how he still watches Taylor highlights on YouTube. Cooley remembers how grateful he was that Taylor never practiced his trademark big hits against him in practice. And Moss breaks down in tears remembering the way the news affected him. If you're a Redskins fan, I know the loss of Taylor is a wound on your heart that still hasn't healed. I invite you to share your memories and your feelings about him in the comments section of this post.
During the summer, Chris Cooley couldn't beat out Logan Paulsen or converted wide receiver Niles Paul for a Washington Redskins backup tight end spot behind Fred Davis. So the news that the Redskins have brought Cooley back in the wake of Davis' season-ending Achilles injury isn't exactly the banner NFL headline of the day. And I doubt there's going to be any kind of stampede in your fantasy league to snag Cooley off the waiver wire. He is not the player he was when he used to catch 70-80 passes a season, and he's not going to replicate the numbers of Davis, who's a more dynamic weapon and was leading the Redskins in receptions even though he was only the 23rd-most targeted tight end in the league.

However, I think Cooley can still fill a role for the Redskins, and for a couple of somewhat unique reasons. First, it's the only place he wants to be. He's a lifelong Redskins fan who roots for the team the way a fan does, which is the root of his popularity among those fans. He claims to have turned down opportunities elsewhere after the Redskins released him because he didn't want to play for any other team. Whether that claim is true or not, we'll never know, but it bolsters the Captain Chaos legend and further endears him to the team and its fans.

Second, Cooley is a smart, selfless player who knows the offense and can only help as Robert Griffin III and his young tight ends and receivers continue to develop in it. Even if Cooley is the third tight end on the depth chart behind Paul and Paulsen, he's made it clear that he's fine staying in the background and helping those guys get better. He was one of the first to call Paul in the offseason when the news broke that Paul was being converted to his position (and thereby endangering Cooley's own status on the team), and Paul's development as a tight end should benefit from having Cooley around.

Finally, if he does see the field, Cooley is likely to help as a blocker. Davis' blocking had improved, but it doesn't look as though it'll ever be his strong suit. Paul looks timid at times (as many would be) when asked to block opposing defensive ends. Cooley has no fear of such assignments and will throw himself into them with abandon. If the concern was that Paul/Paulsen was not yet a reliable enough combination at tight end with Davis sidelined, Cooley's addition to the mix can help with that.

The Redskins' coaching staff likes Cooley and was impressed with the condition in which he kept himself this offseason in an effort to prove to them he could stay healthy. He was cut as part of a numbers game, due to his high salary and their desire to develop Paul as a tight end -- not because the team wanted to be rid of him. Now that he's back, there's every reason to think he can help the Redskins' dynamic offense in his own specific ways.

Now, if he could only play safety, then they'd really have something.

Oakland Raiders cut-down analysis

September, 1, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Oakland Raiders' roster moves.

Most significant move: Putting starting linebacker Aaron Curry on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. He has been out all camp with knee problems. This is good news, because there was a thought he could end up on the injured reserve. Now Curry can come back to practice Oct. 16. He will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by fourth-round pick Miles Burris. I think Oakland will look for some linebackers in the coming days as well. As expected, young tight end David Ausberry made the team and he will continue to develop. They are high on sixth-round pick, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi. He is raw, but he has big potential and he can learn without urgency because he is on a top-notch line. Cornerback Bryan McCann made the team and he could be the starting punt returner. As expected, punt returner Roscoe Parrish, who was cut by the Chargers on Monday and quickly signed by the Raiders, was cut after he fumbled two punts Thursday at Seattle.

Onward and upward: Defensive lineman Dominique Hamilton was caught in a numbers game. He was impressive in the preseason but he is likely headed to the practice squad. Rookie free-agent receiver Derek Carrier is probably not headed to the practice squad at this point. The team was very high on him after the draft, but he fell behind other rookie receivers such as fifth-round pick Juron Criner and fellow undrafted rookie Rod Streater. Both those players made the team and should be part of the rotation. However, rookie receiver Brandon Carswell could be practice-squad bound. Rookie linebacker Chad Kilgore could also be headed to the practice squad. He looked good in the preseason. Linebacker Nathan Stupar, a seventh-round draft pick, was a surprise cut after he had a strong preseason. I could see him being claimed elsewhere. If not, I'm sure Oakland will try to put him on the practice squad.

What’s next: I expect the Raiders to be very busy in the next few days. Depth is a big problem because of a salary-cap issue and a lack of draft picks the past two years. The Raiders’ lack of depth was a serious problem in the preseason. I think the Raiders could use help at running back, tight end, the offensive line, and linebacker and in the secondary. Yes, they could be busy. Among the players Oakland could look at include Rock Cartwright, Tim Hightower, Joselio Hanson, Justin Miller and Chris Cooley. Oakland could also be on the lookout for a pass-rusher. It worked out Andre Carter recently, but he reportedly isn’t healthy enough to sign anywhere.
Click here for the complete list of Washington Redskins roster moves.

Most significant move: The release of running back Tim Hightower was obviously a surprise, because he was the starting running back last season and the favorite to be so again if he'd been able to recover from ACL surgery. But he was not able to do so, and so the team made the decision to release him. That leaves Roy Helu, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris as the only running backs (not counting fullback Darrel Young) on the roster. Which one will start Week 1? Your guess is as good as mine. Will each of the three get a turn as the starter at some point this season? Almost certainly. Might the Redskins add another one? Yeah, there was talk early Friday that they were trying to trade wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to the Dolphins for Steve Slaton. Didn't happen, and Armstrong was cut, but it shows they're on the lookout. The Redskins' running back situation remains far from settled, but they do like the three guys they have, as long as Helu and Royster can stay healthy. And I don't think they'd hesitate to start Morris in a game right now.

Onward and upward: Armstrong has some experience and the kind of speed that will make other teams take notice. He was beaten out by Aldrick Robinson and Brandon Banks, and it's not as though the Redskins cut him because they didn't like him. They felt they had too many good options at wide receiver this season. ... Linebacker Bryan Kehl might have impressed some people with his performance in preseason games.

What's next: Well, the Redskins cut all the way to 52 players, which means they have one more spot to fill. Could be they find that veteran running back. Maybe they bring back tight end Chris Cooley at a lower salary if he deosn't find work elsewhere. Maybe they try to find a safety to replace the suspended Tanard Jackson. Not sure what their plan is for that spot, but it shouldn't be long before we find out.

Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012
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Tampa Bay’s 30-3 loss to the Washington Redskins on Wednesday night didn’t make for great viewing.

Blame much of it on Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. But, more importantly give Schiano lots of credit for making one of his best decisions since taking over the Buccaneers in January.

The Tampa Bay starters did not play. Instead, they stood on the sidelines after going through a full practice at Georgetown University earlier in the day.

It’s not unusual for an NFL coach to use his starters lightly or sit some of them in the final preseason game. But Schiano took this to an extreme. He even sat long-snapper Andrew Economos and a few guys that are likely to be key backups.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After watching Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph go down with a season-ending knee injury last week, Schiano wasn’t taking any chances. He wants his starters healthy for the regular-season opener, which comes Sept. 9 against Carolina.

That game is going to be a lot more important -- and, hopefully more entertaining -- than the preseason finale.

Some quick observations from Wednesday night’s game:
  • The Bucs still are trying to figure out how they’re going to replace Joseph. Jamon Meredith started at right guard, but I don’t know if that means he’ll be there for the Carolina game. Meredith surrendered a sack and was called for two penalties in the first half. The Bucs are experimenting with their options at that spot. Ted Larsen, who got the start at center, and Derek Hardman, also are possibilities from the current roster. But the Bucs also could scan the waiver wire for help in the coming days. After watching all the backup offensive linemen, I’d suggest the waiver wire might be the way to go.
  • Defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry might have helped his chances of landing a roster spot. He batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage early in the game. The Bucs are expected to use Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller as their starters. Amobi Okoye is expected to be part of the backup rotation, but he’s missed a lot of time with an injury. Gilberry likely is in the mix with Gary Gibson and Frank Okam to be part of the rotation.
  • I remember a preseason or two back in the 1990s when third-stringer quarterback Scott Milanovich was the most popular quarterback in Tampa Bay. After watching Brett Ratliff get the start and play the entire game, I don’t think starter Josh Freeman or backup Dan Orlovsky have anything to worry about. In fact, I think there is at least a chance the Bucs could follow the path a lot of other teams have taken in recent years and go with only two quarterbacks on the regular-season roster. In fairness to Ratliff, he got no help from his offensive line.
  • Broadcaster and former Buc John Lynch might have stirred up some speculation when he said the Bucs should try to sign tight end Chris Cooley, who recently was released by the Redskins. Usually, I try to shoot down speculation about the Bucs signing guys in their 30s because that really doesn’t fit the profile of a team that’s doing most of its building through the draft. But I’m with Lynch on this one. I think the Bucs could use a little more depth to go with Dallas Clark and Luke Stocker. If Cooley’s healthy, he might be worth a shot. I think he’d be a better lockerroom fit than Jeremy Shockey, who still remains unsigned. General manager Mark Dominik said during a fourth-quarter interview with the broadcast team that there had been contact with Cooley's agent, but said the team is now aggressively pursuing the veteran tight end.
  • Rookie safety Sean Baker still might be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. But he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble Wednesday night. That might help Baker land a spot on the practice squad.
  • Nice to see Bucs’ co-chairman Joel Glazer hugging Raheem Morris before the game. Morris coached the Bucs the last three seasons and is now Washington’s defensive backs coach. Morris had a good relationship with ownership, but it was obvious to all that a move had to be made as the Bucs lost their final 10 games of last season. I’m just guessing here, but I doubt any members of the Glazer family were exchanging hugs with Washington general manager Bruce Allen, who once held the same role in Tampa Bay.
Ryan TannehillRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesRyan Tannehill's supporting cast in Miami lags behind those of other rookie QB starters.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is about to accomplish something even the great Dan Marino couldn’t with the Miami Dolphins.

Tannehill, a rookie, will be Miami’s Week 1 starter Sept. 9 against the Houston Texans. Marino, a Hall of Famer, didn’t see his first NFL action until Week 3 of his 1983 rookie season and finished with nine starts in 11 games.

The Tannehill era is beginning sooner than expected. A surprising series of events -- which included a knee injury to veteran quarterback David Garrard and struggles from former starter Matt Moore -- propelled him into the starting lineup. This year’s No. 8 overall pick has been a fast learner, in part due to his collegiate experience in a West Coast system run by current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

Sept. 9 is not only historic for the Dolphins, but it’s a good personal moment for Tannehill. He gets to make his NFL debut where it all started -- in his home state of Texas.

"If it would have been in Buffalo or San Diego, I’m excited," Tannehill said this week. "Obviously, it’s nice to go back to my home state. I’ll have a lot of friends and family there, but I’m just excited to play in my first real NFL game, a real season opener. I’m excited for this team. I’m excited for what we can do."

But what are realistic expectations for Tannehill in 2012? He is one of five rookie quarterbacks -- including four first-rounders -- who will start in Week 1. That’s an NFL record.

The AFC East blog, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information, crunched some numbers on rookie quarterbacks who started in Week 1 from the past five years. Here's what we found:


These average numbers are respectable for Tannehill and should be the bar for his rookie season. If he throws for more than 3,100 yards and has more touchdowns than interceptions, it would be a great first season. The average passer rating also was 77.2, which is not bad.

But you have to consider what many of these quarterbacks had around them as rookies and how that compares to Tannehill’s supporting cast in Miami. For example, Stafford had stud receiver Calvin Johnson in Detroit. Ryan had Roddy White in Atlanta. Dalton had A.J. Green in Cincinnati and Newton had Steve Smith in Carolina. These are all legitimate No. 1 receivers who make the job of a rookie quarterback much easier.

Tannehill has no receiver close to that caliber, and it certainly will hurt the rookie. Tannehill is working with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. His top targets include Legedu Naanee, Davone Bess and, if healthy, Brian Hartline.

Miami needs receivers in the worst way. There is no getting around it. The Dolphins have an unproductive group that’s having trouble making plays and catching the football this preseason. Miami has to be concerned that this could stunt Tannehill’s growth.

"Well, they haven't helped matters," Sherman said of his receivers. "I wish they would say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy’ and jump up on the table by having a knockout performance, and that hasn’t necessarily happened just yet. ... I think we’ll keep Bess. I can pretty much guarantee that, but there’s only one of him. We need to fill in the other spots."

The good thing I noticed about Tannehill is that he hasn't appeared to be shaken by the drops and poor play from his receivers. In many cases, he’s taken the blame, which is a smart move on his part. He must stay poised throughout this process and weather the initial growing pains.

Getting Tannehill better receivers could come via trade or free agency. The Dolphins have a wealth of draft picks. Miami has a first-round pick, two second-rounders and two third-rounders in the 2013 draft. That is valuable ammunition that could potentially land a receiver for this season. We mentioned Green Bay Packers backup receiver James Jones as a potential target. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin coached Jones when Philbin was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay.

But the most likely option is scanning the waiver wire for veterans released by other teams. There will be plenty of receivers becoming available Friday when teams are mandated to trim rosters from 75 to 53 players. Veteran pass-catchers such as tight end Chris Cooley and receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth already have hit the open market.

Until then, Wednesday night will be the final tune-up for Tannehill with the group he has. The Dolphins travel to play the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason finale. But after that, the Dolphins and Tannehill are playing for keeps.

"I don’t know exactly how many snaps I’ll get, but I want to go out and take advantage of every rep," Tannehill said. "Really play like we can as an offense [and] really move the ball and be consistent. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve kind of focused on is being more consistent as an offense, being more consistent as a quarterback."

 
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For the past couple of months, I have been writing that three things had to happen in order for tight end Chris Cooley to make the Washington Redskins' 2012 roster: He had to prove he was healthy, be willing to accept a lesser role and take a pay cut. He managed to accomplish the first thing with a healthy offseason, and I have no idea whether the third thing even came up. But to hear Redskins coach Mike Shanahan tell it, the second thing was the sticking point that led the Redskins to tell Cooley on Tuesday that they were releasing him. Per John Keim:
"I told him Fred [Davis] was going to be our starter," Shanahan said. "There was no guarantee, but if he wanted to be a starter I would give him every option to seek that opportunity out and that's what we're doing at this time."

There's no way to know if Cooley will find work elsewhere at this point in the offseason. He's 30 years old and has missed 20 games over the past three seasons due to injury. He was surpassed last year by Davis on the tight end depth chart, and this offseason the team converted wide receiver Niles Paul to tight end and has high hopes for him. Even had he made the team, it's hard to imagine how much playing time they could have found for Cooley.

Add in the fact that Cooley is an unabashed Redskins fan, to the point where he had tears in his eyes when he addressed the media today and said it would be difficult to put on anyone else's uniform. Cooley has always been outspoken about his love for the organization, even engaging in fan-like behavior towards Tony Romo and the rival Dallas Cowboys in his public comments. It's one of the things that has endeared him to Redskins fans during his eight years in Washington, and there's little doubt that today's decision hurts Cooley and his fans on an unusually emotional level.

As he leaves, it's worth mentioning some things about Cooley. His team-first talk wasn't lip service. He worked at fullback this preseason in place of the injured Darrel Young in an effort to show the team he could help in other ways if they were interested in finding a way to keep him. He has been a hands-on help to Davis and Paul as they have learned the position and honed their craft at the NFL level. These are two guys that were trying to take his job (and, apparently, succeeding), yet Cooley devoted time and energy to helping them get better because it was the best thing for the team. He has obviously known for a long time that today's news was a possibility -- even a likelihood -- and yet he continued to carry himself with class and go about his job on a daily basis the very best he could. He deserves to be commended for his professionalism and to be remembered fondly by teammates, coaches and fans.

"He helped me get comfortable with this team & this offense. He is a legend in my mind and will be missed. Thank You Chris Cooley," rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) wrote on Twitter shortly after the news broke, and Griffin is expressing a sentiment likely being felt all around the Redskins' building today in Ashburn, Va.

I have no idea if Cooley will find work elsewhere or even if he wants to. But he was a hard-working, productive, fan-favorite player amid a not-real-good era in Redskins history, and I'm sure he'll forever hold a place in the hearts of the team's fans.
ASHBURN, Va. -- As the rest of the teams in the NFC East talk about dynasties, defending championships and ... whatever it is that Jerry Jones has been talking about all week, the Washington Redskins are working on moving up from fourth place. It has been a long time since the Redskins were a real factor. They've had three straight losing seasons and have reached the playoffs in just three of the past 19 years.

But for the first time in a long time, there is reason for hope. His name is Robert Griffin III, and he is a rookie quarterback on whom everything now rests. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick for the right to draft Griffin, and all he has to do is look around or listen to know what he represents to the Redskins' starving fan base.

"I didn't expect the excitement," said Griffin, who doesn't seem to be caught off-guard by too many things. "I wasn't looking to get drafted and have a whole city fall in love with me. So it's definitely a great experience. Hopefully, I can be the catalyst and get a lot of fans excited about this team."

Months before the games -- months before training camp, even -- Griffin already was doing that. His jersey became a fungal phenomenon, sprouting up instantly everywhere in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Stores began selling posters modeled after the iconic 2008 Barack Obama "HOPE" campaign posters, only with Griffin's face on them instead. The public reaction to Griffin has been outsized and unreasonable. But given the way Redskins fans feel about their team and how long they've gone without a franchise quarterback, it's easy for longtime residents of the area to understand.

"It's Washington, man," veteran Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "There's nothing reasonable. The whole city expects 'now,' so at the end of the day, all you can do is give them what they want."

"Now" may not be a reasonable goal for a rookie quarterback on a team that won five games last year and plays in the same division as the Super Bowl champions. But what Griffin has already done around here is change the vibe. People are talking with real excitement about what can or will be. Even coach Mike Shanahan, who has overhauled the roster to the point where 19 of the projected 22 starters weren't on the team two years ago, feels differently about 2012.

"It's the first time, I feel like, you go into a season and you've got a chance," Shanahan said. "You're excited about the year. You're excited about your football team. You're excited about the direction you're going."

That's all new this year, and the new front man is a huge reason why.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How will the offense be different under Griffin? If you watch the Redskins practice, you see a lot of new stuff. There are rollouts. There are bootlegs. There are designed runs for the quarterback. There are option sets, where Griffin has to decide whether to keep, pitch or throw the ball. Shanahan admits he's throwing a lot at his rookie quarterback, and it's by design.

"What I think you do is, you feed him everything," Shanahan said. "For people to grow, in my opinion, you teach them everything and then you find out what they're able to do. So we teach him everything, see how much he can handle, knowing he's going to get better and better every year because he's smart enough to get it. And then that'll be our job here for the next three weeks, really after this week, to isolate it down more to what we're going to do this season -- get a package for him that he's most comfortable with."

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelRedskins fans are hoping Robert Griffin III can turn things around in Washington.
In other words, all of the stuff we're seeing Griffin do in practice might not necessarily carry over into the season. If there's a particular part of the offense with which he's having a hard time, the Redskins could shelve it until next summer and go with the things they know he can do. Regardless, though, Griffin's athleticism and running ability give the Redskins options they didn't have in previous years. And it may help them cover up question marks on the offensive line and in the running game. Speaking of which ...

2. Do they have enough around him? Shanahan won't talk about the salary-cap penalties the league imposed on the Redskins (and the Cowboys) just before the start of free agency. But it's a pretty fair guess that, had they not been docked $18 million in cap space this year and again next year, they might have been able to sign some offensive line help. They did not. They're bringing back last year's offensive line, and two of the starters are already injured. There's a chance left guard Kory Lichtensteiger makes the season opener, but right tackle Jammal Brown has a recurring hip problem that could prevent them from being able to count on him. The good news is that some of their backups got playing time last year because of injuries and suspension. And left tackle Trent Williams looks like the best player on the field in practices. But Griffin's protection could be an issue all year if the line struggles with injuries.

If it doesn't, Shanahan believes it can be effective because the players all know the system and each other. He's also not worried right now about who will emerge has his starting running back. Veteran Tim Hightower would be the starter if not for his ongoing recovery from last year's knee surgery. Evan Royster, a sixth-round pick in 2011, has looked the best of the remaining bunch so far in camp, but they also like 2011 fourth-round pick Roy Helu and 2012 sixth-rounder Alfred Morris. "We have four backs that can play," Shanahan told me, and he's willing to let the camp competition sort it out for him.

Griffin's receiving group includes newcomers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, veteran Moss and last year's rookie star, Leonard Hankerson, whose 2011 was cut short by injury, appears to be back. They're also expecting big things out of tight end Fred Davis, who was their best pass-catcher for much of last year before a drug suspension cost him the final four games.

3. The secondary. The defensive front seven looks strong and deep, but there are question marks at cornerback and safety. Will DeAngelo Hall thrive in his new role as the nickel corner? Will Cedric Griffin or Kevin Barnes be good enough as his replacement on the outside? Is strong safety Brandon Meriweather a talented star who was miscast in Chicago? Or is he a malcontent who got kicked out of New England because he wasn't playing to his potential? Can Madieu Williams or Tanard Jackson hold down the free safety spot? Lots of new faces and moving parts out there, and these questions need to be answered if the defense is going to continue to make progress.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

As they will tell you, the Redskins did beat the Giants twice last year. And they played the Cowboys tough twice. Of all the last-place teams in the NFL, only one finished closer to its division's first-place team than did the Redskins, who at 5-11 were still only four games out of first. They have replaced a starting quarterback (Rex Grossman) who somehow threw 20 interceptions in only 13 games with a brilliantly talented, charismatic and ultra-promising rookie. They've beefed up at receiver and on the defensive line. And even if all of that isn't enough for them to contend in 2012, Redskins fans have all kinds of reasons to feel good about the direction in which their franchise is pointing.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Eagles should be better than they were last year. The Giants have reason to believe they'll be better than they were last year. The Cowboys made major upgrades at cornerback and should be tougher to play than they were last year. Even with the improvements, there are very few positions (Tight end? Linebacker? 3-4 defensive end?) at which the Redskins appear to be as good as or better than their division rivals. That's a comment on the talent in the rest of the division as much as it is on what the Redskins are doing, but it remains a troubling reality. The Redskins are still a work in progress, and while the NFL prides itself on the number of its annual surprises, a Redskins playoff push at this point would likely rank among the biggest.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Santana Moss
Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRERedskins receiver Santana Moss has lost 16 pounds since last season.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Moss' weight loss is striking. He's down 16 pounds and says he feels completely different. The Redskins' coaches called him in the offseason and told him they thought he was too big, and he agreed, so he got in shape and has come to camp determined to show the world he's still a top receiver.
  • The Redskins are converting Niles Paul, who last year was a rookie wide receiver, to tight end. He's 234 pounds and said his biggest concern when they asked him to make the change was that he wouldn't be able to block big pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul. But incumbent tight end Chris Cooley told him it was all about technique, and Cooley has been working with Paul to help refine that.
  • That's a pretty cool thing for Cooley to do for a player who may be about to take his job. Shows you what kind of guy and teammate Cooley is. He's got a chance to stick on the roster, but he has to show he's healthy and probably take a pay cut.
  • The Redskins' plan as of now for three-receiver sets is to use Garcon and Hankerson wide and Moss in the slot. But Moss could play well enough to see action outside in two-receiver sets, especially if Hankerson and Morgan have injury problems. Morgan, who has always had those, is being looked at as someone who can play any of the three receiver slots in Shanahan's offense.
  • Shanahan named defensive lineman Chris Baker as a player he thinks will surprise people. If that's true, the defensive line rotation looks formidable with Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who missed his rookie year with a knee injury but is back and looking good.
  • Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will switch up from time to time this year instead of staying pinned to specific sides of the field. Orakpo also says he's working on adding pass-rush moves to his arsenal in an effort to get his sack numbers up.
  • Neil Rackers has a chance to unseat Graham Gano as the kicker, but Gano held off a challenge from veteran Shayne Graham in preseason last year, so don't give up on him yet.
  • Brandon Banks has been told he has to make the team as a receiver, not just a return man. If he doesn't make it, look for Aldrick Robinson as a possible kick returner.
  • Somehow, we have reached this point in the Camp Confidential without mentioning the name of London Fletcher. But he's still very much in the middle of things at age 37. He ran an interception in for a touchdown during the first week of training camp. He's in the best shape of anyone in camp, as usual. They put Griffin's locker next to his because they felt Griffin could benefit from proximity to their best veteran leader, and Griffin said he knew right away the significance of the locker assignment. Fletcher said he wanted to come back to Washington in part because he wants to be there when they turn it around. If they do, his presence will of course be a big reason why.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Late in the Washington Redskins' afternoon practice, after catching a pass near the goal line, tight end Chris Cooley fumbled. Linebacker Bryan Kehl picked the ball up and ran the length of the field, fairly certain of a touchdown. Had you asked Kehl during that run what the likelihood was of the team's rookie starting quarterback running him down from 80 yards away and preventing that touchdown, he'd likely have laughed. But that's exactly what happened.

"I'm not going to let the guy have a free touchdown," Robert Griffin III explained through his famous smile at his news conference a few moments later. "So I ran him down, because I could. It's more of a thing to show the team not to give up on a play."

Coach Mike Shanahan was watching.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciRedskins quarterback Robert Griffin III made an impression with his hustle at Monday's practice.
"I was hoping he wasn't going to pull a hamstring," Shanahan said. "But yeah, that shows you the pride that he has."

Griffin's getting rave reviews around these parts for his attitude and the way in which he is balancing his dual responsibilities of fitting in with and taking charge of the team. After hearing a comment Griffin made about his ability to break arm tackles, cornerback DeAngelo Hall made him carry his pads Monday, telling him it would help him build up the strength to keep breaking those arm tackles. And Griffin is working on his rendition of "My Girl" for the team's rookie talent show, which begins Tuesday night. But he's also looking for opportunities to lead, and chasing after Kehl on a play that was basically over was one.

Of course, what you want to know is how he looked while actually practicing. My first impression was that he looked like a rookie -- a beat too slow with his decision-making in some key spots and a little bit off with throws in part as a result of that. This is what you'd expect a rookie quarterback to look like less than one week into his first training camp, and so there's no reason to be overly concerned about it. He throws a great-looking ball, obviously, and when he runs with it he looks fantastic. The issue is getting used to the speed of the NFL game. He's got plenty of time for that, and to hear him tell it, he's got help from his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.

"Guys you go against every day in practice, they've seen this offense time and time again and they're good at stopping it," Griffin said. "Nobody will be as good at it as [Ryan] Kerrigan and [Brian] Orakpo, and that's just helping me get better."

Some other thoughts from my first day here at Redskins training camp:

  • The offensive line looks like a real problem area, and it's down two starters. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had arthroscopic surgery to clean out cartilage in his surgically repaired knee. The scope showed no damage to knee ligaments, and Shanahan said he's hoping Lichtensteiger will be back by the first regular-season game. Right tackle Jammal Brown is still awaiting news on his recurring hip problem. So Maurice Hurt was starting at left guard and Tyler Polumbus at right tackle with the first-team offense Monday, and the line was overmatched, even against Washington's second-team defense. It needs to jell quickly. Griffin is, as you might have heard, a considerable investment for this organization. It'd be good to keep him upright if possible.
  • Veteran Santana Moss is the shrimp of a wide receiving corps that includes Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson, but he looks great and sounds motivated, and I wouldn't count him out as a starter opposite Garcon. The Redskins used Hankerson and Morgan in the slot, as well as Moss, during practice Monday.
  • Evan Royster looks very good in the competition at running back. Tim Hightower sat out team drills because of his recovery from his knee injury, so Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris got the reps. Royster made one excellent leaping one-handed catch, and skittered through the defense for a big gain on another play.
  • The defensive line rotation is very fluid on the first-team unit. There were plays on which Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen were the ends on either side of nose tackle Barry Cofield, plays on which Adam Carriker and Bowen flanked Cofield, plays on which Carriker and Bowen played the ends with Jenkins in the middle ... That's the way they want to run it, to keep everyone fresh, if possible.
  • Madieu Williams was the first-team free safety with Brandon Meriweather playing strong safety. Tanard Jackson, who's a candidate for that starting free safety spot, isn't allowed to practice in pads for his first two days off the PUP list, so it remains to be seen where he fits into the depth chart.
  • DeAngelo Hall was used a great deal as the slot cornerback with either Kevin Barnes or Cedric Griffin on the outside opposite Josh Wilson. It looked like he was beaten a few times, though on those plays the ball was not thrown to his man.
  • London Fletcher intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Just the way he's done it since the time of leather helmets. Seriously, that guy doesn't age.
  • Former Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff tore the same ACL he tore in the preseason last year, and he will miss the entire season. The Redskins viewed him as a potentially valuable backup at inside linebacker.
One of the things that makes the NFC East the best NFL division to cover is the emotion of it all. Specifically, the hate. My job keeps me in regular contact with fans of each of the division's four teams, and part of what keeps this blog so lively is that, is that if you're a fan of one of the four teams, you hate the other three. I get it. I dig it. You're fans. You don't have to be rational when talking about your team or its rivals. It's one of the ways you blow off steam. It's all good.

Bennett
What's rare is for a player to get into the act. It happens every once in a while. Chris Cooley of the Washington Redskins said last year he enjoyed watching Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo blow a game. Justin Tuck of the New York Giants has talked a few times over the past couple of years about hating the Cowboys. And on Thursday, upon arrival at training camp in Albany in a sweet-looking Bentley, Giants (and former Cowboys) tight end Martellus Bennett had this to say about his former team:
"I just want to kick those guys' asses," Bennett said shortly after arriving at camp, when he was asked about playing the Cowboys. "That is what it is all about. I mean we are cool but we ain't that cool, know what I am saying? I kind of got some ill feelings towards them overall. It is a game, I kind of hate everybody, honestly, in the NFL."

Later, Bennett clarified: "I have ill feelings toward everybody. It is not just Dallas. Pretty much anybody who doesn't play with us, I pretty much don't like 'em. I don't like a lot of people."

Well, at least he cleared that up. I mean, I don't know. Bennett's a big question mark -- a super-talented, still-young tight end of whom the Cowboys got tired because he couldn't reliably catch the ball. The Giants have picked him up on a one-year deal because he's young and still has potential, but it's a low-risk deal that will require Bennett to perform in order to win and keep the job. Even with the Giants short on tight ends, they're not going to have much patience for Bennett if he has the same kinds of problems he had in Dallas.

If he doesn't, they believe they'll have something special on their hands. And if that happens, Bennett's apparent hatred of the Cowboys and everyone else in the league will serve him well in the games. In the meantime, though, as we are still left to wonder whether he'll make good on his big talk, we thank Bennett for embracing the hate that makes the division go 'round.

Redskins Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
11:30
AM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing of which I'm certain: Competition. The Redskins have their quarterback in Robert Griffin III, but they still need to build an offense around him. And they're addressing potential weaknesses by bringing in a lot of people to compete for certain spots and hoping that competition breeds quality starters. At wide receiver, veteran Santana Moss will compete with Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan for snaps opposite Pierre Garcon. At running back, Tim Hightower's 2011 knee injury opens up competition between him, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. There's competition at tight end, where Fred Davis is the No. 1, but converted wide receiver Niles Paul threatens the playing time (and maybe the roster spot) of mainstay Chris Cooley.

The defense seems much more set, especially the front seven. But there's some competition at safety, where Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams aren't the safest projected starters in the league. Mike Shanahan's goal for this offseason was to make his roster deeper, and he believes he has done that. But he's still working to build something long-term in Washington, and while the Redskins do appear to be deeper than they've been at any point during Shanahan's tenure, they still need to identify starters at some key spots.

One thing that might happen: There's a real chance for Moss to re-establish himself as a good starting wide receiver. After the team signed two wide receivers in the first hour of free agency, the Redskins' coaches reached out to Moss to make it clear (in case it wasn't already) that his spot on the roster wasn't safe. They didn't think he looked right last year and told him he needed to lose weight, get in shape and get back his pre-2011 focus. Moss did that, showed up to OTAs having lost 15 pounds and seems determined to hang onto a starting spot.

It helps Moss that he can play the slot, but unless Hankerson or Morgan gets healthy and dazzles 'em in training camp, Moss right now projects as the starter opposite Garcon. He's 33 years old, but he had 93 catches and 1,115 yards just two years ago and could be a huge help to Griffin and the younger receivers on the roster. But it's clear he's not hanging around just to mentor guys who are trying to take his job. Moss believes he can still play, and will be determined to prove he still deserves to be a starter.

One thing we won't see: A quarterback controversy. Last year at this time, all eyes were on Rex Grossman and John Beck as the Redskins entered camp without an anointed starter at the most important position on the field. This year, Beck is gone and Grossman has returned as Griffin's backup. Rookie Kirk Cousins is also in camp, but there's a clear pecking order and no doubt as to which quarterback is in control of the team. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick for Griffin and just signed him for $21 million. They will do everything they can to make sure he succeeds, and that includes making it clear from the very start that he faces no pressure in terms of job security.

Now, Griffin is a rookie who will face growing pains, as they all do. And he must do the job in order to keep the job. But there's little doubt around Redskins Park that he'll be able to start right away, and barring injury there doesn't seem to be any way he could lose the starting quarterback job before the beginning of the regular season. A rookie quarterback can't ever offer certainty, but the Redskins have established some stability at quarterback as they get ready to open camp this week.

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