NFL Nation: Chris Horton

Remember Chris Horton? Yeah, me neither. But I was covering baseball in 2008, when Horton had three interceptions in 14 games as a rookie safety for the Washington Redskins. Horton tailed off due to injury in the ensuing seasons and didn't play at all in 2011, but there's apparently something the New York Giants like about him, because he's apparently agreed to a deal with the Super Bowl champs.

Horton's signing is for special teams, but it has something in common with the rest of the Giants' activity since free agency opened -- he comes from a division rival. The Giants have already signed former Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, and they had former Cowboys wide receiver/special teamer Kevin Ogletree in for a visit Thursday, though it's unclear whether they'll actually sign him.

Could be pure coincidence, of course. Could be the Giants are intrigued by players they've seen up close. Could be they're looking to sign guys who have inside information on the teams they play twice a year. Could be a combination of any or all of those. Just a little oddity worth pointing out as the Giants make little moves on the fringes of free agency, the way they like to do.

Wrap-up: Texans 30, Redskins 27 (OT)

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
8:48
PM ET
What it means: It's a really tough loss for a team that appeared to be in control at halftime. The Redskins know the Texans' offensive personnel as well as anyone but they couldn't do anything to slow down Matt Schaub in the passing game. A 2-0 start would have put the Redskins in a great position -- especially with the Cowboys at 0-2. Washington has to quickly put this one behind them, but it's a loss that could haunt the Skins late in the season. Quarterback Donovan McNabb had a huge day with 426 yards passing and a touchdown. The Redskins' offense really missed rookie left tackle Trent Williams when he was injured late in the game.

Tomorrow's talker: Everyone will be talking about the timeout Gary Kubiak took just as Redskins kicker Graham Gano attempted a 52-yard field goal. He nailed the field goal, but Kubiak had already been awarded the timeout. When Gano lined up again, he missed the field goal to the right. Icing a kicker at the last second can obviously backfire if he misses the kick, but it paid off for Kubiak. The fact that he did it to his mentor and close friend, Mike Shanahan, only added to the intrigue.

Goat: Safety Chris Horton jumping offsides in overtime was an absolute killer. The Texans were able to extend the game-winning drive. A lot of Redskins deserve blame for all those passing yards, but Horton made the mistake that folks will remember.

What I didn't like: At a crucial point late in the fourth quarter, why would the Redskins have Phillip Buchanon attempting to cover Andre Johnson? He had already burned them for double-digit catches. You have to put your best cornerback on him. Buchanon had help over the top with Reed Doughty but he was not able to break up the touchdown. That's how the Texans forced overtime.

What's next: The Redskins will travel to St. Louis, where they can't afford to have a letdown. If they can get to 2-1, that Eagles game in Philly is going to be huge -- for so many reasons.

Draft Watch: NFC East

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
PM ET
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Dallas Cowboys

From a bust standpoint, let me offer up the '09 draft class. But that's not completely fair because the class was pretty much wiped out by injuries last season. The one unquestionable gem is USC kickoff specialist David Buehler. Some of us laughed when the Cowboys spent a sixth-round pick on a player who wasn't supposed to compete for the place-kicking job. But Buehler led the league in touchbacks and participated on the punt and kick return units. Another gem is 2008 fourth-round pick Tashard Choice. When offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has gotten him on the field, Choice has produced in a big way. In 2008, he appeared to be the most complete back on the roster at times. From a bust standpoint, go back to the '07 draft and look at third-round pick James Marten out of Boston College. You could tell pretty quickly that Marten wasn't a player. And in the fourth round of that same draft, the Cowboys got cute in taking former University of Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback to play wide receiver. Stanback was a shoulder injury waiting to happen and he didn't take advantage of numerous opportunities.

New York Giants

They'll be talking about the '07 draft for years. The Giants have four starters from that class and they found the ultimate gem in seventh-rounder Ahmad Bradshaw. The former Marshall running back had some off-the-field issues that caused him to plummet in the draft, but he was a valuable part of the Giants' march to the Super Bowl in '07. The Giants also landed cornerback Aaron Ross (first), wide receiver Steve Smith (second) and tight end Kevin Boss (fifth) in that draft. And don't forget about starting safety Michael Johnson (seventh). That's the draft that put new general manager Jerry Reese on the map. In '08, the Giants were able to land starting safety Kenny Phillips late in the first round and Terrell Thomas late in the second. Phillips appeared to be on his way to stardom but a season-ending knee injury in '09 has tempered those expectations. Thomas was forced into a starting position in '09 and performed admirably. We're still waiting to find out what mid-round picks Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff turn out to be. Those guys aren't really gems or busts. The verdict's still out on 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim. Certainly not a bust, but he needs to show something this season. And for all the time we spent bragging on Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, the guy couldn't get on the field. If he can't get on the field in 2010, he'll be trending toward bust status. North Carolina State running back Andre Brown had gem potential, but he suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles found two gems in the '07 draft. Stewart Bradley is a quality starting middle linebacker who was selected in the third round and the Eagles took Pro Bowl-worthy tight end Brent Celek in the fifth round. The two players have become close friends and they're a huge part of the Eagles' future. In fact, Philly has already signed Celek to a contract extension. From a bust standpoint, the Eagles wasted a pick on Penn State running back Tony Hunt in '07. It's hard to believe that they took Hunt in the third round. And it's not as if Victor Abiamiri has been some type of standout second-round pick. Obviously, we're still waiting to see what becomes of the Eagles' top pick in '07, Kevin Kolb. In '08, the Eagles landed DeSean Jackson in the second round. But two picks before Jackson, they selected defensive tackle Trevor Laws. So there's your boom and bust scenario. The rest of that class is pretty forgettable. Fourth-round selection Quintin Demps has been serviceable, but I wouldn't refer to him as a hidden gem or anything. From the '09 class, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were excellent value picks. They should both be a huge part of the offense for several years. Moise Fokou was a gem in the seventh round. He has the potential to be a special-teams standout and he eventually cracked the starting lineup, although that was predicated by a string of injuries. Still, it's obvious the Eagles like Fokou. He's constantly around the ball.

Washington Redskins

The '07 draft was pretty much a waste of time. The Redskins barely had any picks, but they did manage to select safety LaRon Landry sixth overall. The tragic loss of Sean Taylor meant that Landry had to become the main man at safety. He wasn't ready for that type of responsibility and he's never really lived up to his immense potential. We'll see if Jim Haslett can help him reach the next level. In the second round of the '08 draft, the Skins took wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Neither player has really distinguished himself, although Thomas took some important steps in '09. Kelly won the starting job coming out of training camp, but he didn't do anything with it. Sandwiched between those two picks was former USC tight end Fred Davis. He came on strong in '09 once Chris Cooley was lost to injury. It looks like Davis will be a player. Thomas and Kelly could go either way. Unless there's a dramatic change this offseason, third-round pick Chad Rinehart will be a bust at guard. Seventh-round pick Chris Horton was a great story early in 2008, but his star has faded a bit. Until he reclaims his starting safety spot, it's hard to call him a gem. The '09 draft was another one-hit wonder. It looks like first-round pick Brian Orakpo will be a perennial Pro Bowler. He's an excellent pass-rusher and I think he'll flourish in Haslett's 3-4 scheme. No one else in the class stood out.
 
 Win McNamee/Getty Images
 Will Witherspoon made his presence felt in his first game with the Eagles, returning an interception for a touchdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- If you're trying to kick start your season, the Redskins are the ideal opponent. On Monday night, the Eagles needed less than two minutes to bury a team that is gaining ground on Al Davis' Raiders for biggest laughingstock in the league.

Eagles-Redskins Coverage
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It was the first game of a three-game stretch against NFC East opponents that could shape the Eagles' season. On Monday night, they were able to make enough big plays on both sides of the ball to cover up another ragged performance by the offense. On their fourth play from scrimmage, second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson took the ball from Donovan McNabb on an end-around and sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown. The Skins' alleged speedster DeAngelo Hall watched helplessly as Jackson raced down the sideline.

For this Redskins team, a 7-0 deficit is pretty much insurmountable. The Eagles won the game 27-17 but the final score suggests this was a competitive situation. Well, it wasn't.

Jackson Five plays
The Eagles were far too dependent on the big play -- DeSean Jackson specifically -- against the Redskins, which will not fly against the tougher teams on their schedule. Due to the big play, the Eagles did not run a play in the red zone.
Category Jackson All others
Plays 5* 51
Yards gained 136 125
Yards per play 27.2 2.5
TD 2 0
* Includes 2 incomplete passes thrown his way.
Jackson, who's emerged as one of the most exciting players in the league, added a 57-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 27-7 lead. On the touchdown, Jackson used a stop-and-go route to get at least 10 yards behind Redskins safety Chris Horton.

The bad news for the Eagles is that they have only one game remaining against the Redskins. In Week 8, the Eagles return home to face a Giants team trying to break a two-game losing streak. Then they host a Cowboys team that showed signs of life in a 37-21 win over the Falcons.

There's still no way to have an accurate read on the Eagles, but Monday's win helped them get rid of that awful stench from the Week 6 loss to the Oakland Raiders. This team appears to have several weapons on offense, but it learned the hard way that you actually have to act somewhat interested to beat an inferior opponent.

"We wanted to get rid of that feeling," said tight end Brent Celek. "I never want to have it again. Hopefully we got it out of the way. We just can't afford to have it happen again."

The worst moment for the Eagles occurred in the first quarter when Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook took an accidental knee to the head after a 5-yard run. He was on the ground for at least three minutes as players from both teams huddled around him in prayer.

"I hoped he was OK," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He wasn't moving at first. That worries you a little bit because you don't know exactly what happened. When a player isn't moving, that worries me."

Westbrook suffered a concussion on the play, but he was able to return to the sideline in the second half and Reid's hopeful that he'll return to the lineup soon. Without him, the Eagles' rushing game was stagnant. Rookie LeSean McCoy had 14 carries for 37 yards. It was so bad that Reid sounded thrilled that Michael Vick was able to take off on a 9-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. We were led to believe that opposing defenses would tremble with fear at the sight of Vick lining up for the direct snap, but so far the Eagles' Wildcat has provided only comic relief.

 
 Win McNamee/Getty Images
 Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times.
And speaking of comedy, Sherm Lewis made his play-calling debut with the Redskins. I'm hoping head coach Jim Zorn gave him the full play chart because Lewis fell in love with the same pattern to tight end Chris Cooley early in the game. The Redskins normally like to spread 17 points over several games, but don't let that explosive point total fool you. The offense was just as ineffective as always -- and the Eagles' defense had a lot to do with it.

Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said he injured his right Achilles tendon early in the game -- and that made it impossible for him to run away from the Eagles' pressure. He was sacked six times and the Skins turned the ball over four times. Linebacker Will Witherspoon, acquired by the Eagles in a trade last Tuesday, returned an interception for a touchdown and forced a fumble in his debut.

The sheer joy of leaving a winless Rams team seemed to lift Witherspoon the entire game, although that's not exactly how he phrased it.

"There is some similarity to the scheme here," said Witherspoon of his time with the Rams. "And this locker room is great. They made sure I was prepared. For me, it's like starting the season again. The mindset was just to come in and play well. It's only going to get better from here."

Unfortunately for the Eagles, their real schedule's about to begin.

Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins fell to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


You always hear people talk about how "on any given Sunday" an NFL team can rise up and beat you, but the Detroit Lions had become the exception. On Sunday, the Lions won for the first time since Dec. 23, 2007, and in doing so, have effectively put Jim Zorn's head coaching career in jeopardy.
Week 3 Coverage
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• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live


He appears safe for the moment. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Redskins are not expected to make any moves with Zorn, a team source said Sunday night.

However, with Sunday's 19-14 loss to the Lions, the Redskins are now a team in crisis. This wasn't some sort of fluke in which the Lions received a bunch of breaks. They were, in fact, the best team on the field Sunday -- and that leaves the 1-2 Redskins in a tough spot. I guess the eternal optimist would look at the Skins' schedule and think they'll have a good chance to win against their next three opponents -- the winless Bucs, Panthers and Chiefs.

But after observing Sunday's game against the Lions, I wouldn't feel overly confident about the Redskins completing that sweep. I do think that Zorn, who is 9-10 since taking over in 2008, deserves the chance to at least see how things go during the next few weeks. Can he get his players to rally around him? I really have no clue at this point.
Andrew Weber/US Presswire
Jim Zorn’s job may be in jeopardy after the Redskins’ latest defeat.

If the Redskins could somehow rally and be 4-2 heading into an important division game against the Eagles on Oct. 26, then Zorn probably deserves to finish the season. But if the Redskins don't pull out of this tailspin, then I'd expect to see owner Dan Snyder make an in-season change -- perhaps during the bye week after the Eagles game. If you make a change right now, I'm not sure you're helping anything. Snyder hired Zorn to be the head coach, playcaller and quarterbacks coach. For better or worse, he's invested a lot of time and effort in quarterback Jason Campbell. Do we actually think making defensive coordinator Greg Blache the interim head coach would spark this team? I don't think it would make much difference.

The defense should bear just as much of the blame as the offense for Sunday's loss -- maybe even more. It was manhandled in the trenches by a nondescript offensive line, and Kevin Smith surpassed 100 yards on the ground. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was supposed to transform this defense into something special, but Sunday, Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford was rarely under intense pressure.

It's easy to second-guess Zorn on his decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Lions' 1-yard line early in the game, mainly because it didn't work. I didn't really have a huge issue with that decision because I thought the Skins' defense would've been up to the task. The Lions instead capitalized on the momentum of that play and drove 99 yards to make it 7-0.

You can cry all day about the questionable pass interference penalty on safety Chris Horton in the fourth quarter, but that's not where the Redskins lost the game. From the start, they couldn't match the Lions' intensity. The Redskins also should have been a desperate team, but that's not the attitude they brought to the game.

Zorn is a cerebral guy who will attempt to convince his players this week that all is not lost. But I sense that his methodical approach is beginning to wear thin in the Redskins' locker room. There just seemed to be no sense of urgency from anyone during Sunday's game.

And there was one final decision by Zorn that didn't make a lick of sense: With the ball on the Lions' 36-yard line with eight seconds left, he called for Campbell to throw short on the hitch and pitch -- and pitch. It was a clueless play, which fit pretty well with the way the Skins played Sunday.

Just from looking at a couple of different polls, I think it's safe to say that at least 65 percent of Redskins fans would like to see Zorn fired right now. But in this case, I don't think a firing will jumpstart the team. Washington has so many flaws that it's hard to really pinpoint anything.

Stafford, a quarterback who'd barely completed 50 percent of his passes through two games, had his way with the Skins' secondary, and the Lions were able to rush for 154 yards. It's time to admit that the Redskins are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

To single out Zorn at this point is the wrong way to go. But then, Snyder has never let logic stand in the way of a rash decision.

Wrap-up: Lions 19, Redskins 14

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
4:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


The Redskins have had some embarrassing losses over the years, but Sunday's has to rank near the top.

The Lions, a team that went 0-for-'08, came out and manhandled the Redskins, 19-14, at Ford Field. In the first half, the Redskins didn't even belong on the same field as the Lions, who hadn't won a game since Dec. 23, 2007. Second-year running back Kevin Smith slashed through the Skins' revitalized defensive line with ease, and rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford calmly led his team down the field.

And even when the Redskins had an opportunity to do something early in the fourth quarter, they couldn't get out of their own way. Quarterback Jason Campbell dumped off the ball to wide receiver Devin Thomas for a 15-yard gain that was wiped out when center Casey Rabach was called for holding.

Wide receiver Santana Moss had a big day for the Redskins, but the lack of a running game was their undoing. The Lions held the Skins to zero yards rushing in the first half, and Clinton Portis wasn't all that effective in the second half, either.

Thus begins one of the longest weeks of Jim Zorn's life. He will be questioned at every turn -- and there will be plenty of Redskins fans calling for his job. I think owner Dan Snyder will hold off for at least another week, but that's just a gut feeling. Snyder's made an in-season change before (Norv Turner), and I'm sure he's disgusted by Sunday's outcome.

Even when the Skins had a last-second chance to go for the win, they made a highly questionable decision to throw the ball short and then try to pitch the ball to other players. Campbell could've easily put the ball in the end zone on those last couple of plays. And they could've even gone for a quick sideline route. It was emblematic of the team's entire performance Sunday.

Maybe the hardest thing for the Redskins to stomach is the fact that they lost to a better team. That's right. The Lions didn't back their way into this win. They hit the Skins in the mouth from the start. And when the Redskins' defense desperately needed a stop in the fourth quarter, Chris Horton was called for pass interference.

Has Zorn lost the Redskins' locker room? Well, the team certainly didn't play like they wanted to save the man's job. I don't think Snyder will pull the trigger, but I wouldn't be shocked if he did. Back with much more analysis in about 45 minutes.
 
  Geoff Burke-US Presswire
  Albert Haynesworth gives Washington's defense a credible and consistent threat.

 Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

If you simply looked at the overall rankings from the 2008 season, the Redskins' defense was among the best in the league. But that number couldn't cover up the fact that the Skins didn't create enough pressure and cause enough turnovers.

That's a big reason why owner Dan Snyder paid former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed to become the centerpiece of his defense. Haynesworth is the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and he's capable of drawing double and triple teams. With that one move, the Redskins' defense gained instant credibility in terms of becoming a disruptive force.

"It's pretty amazing to see how he goes about his business," said veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels. "He can blow up the pocket on his own and that creates a lot of opportunities for the rest of us."

Camp Confidential: NFC East
Cowboys: Fri., Aug. 7
Eagles: Tues., Aug. 11
Giants: Mon., Aug. 17
Redskins: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index

According to several players, the presence of Haynesworth has made old-school defensive coordinator Greg Blache more daring in his approach. With young players such as first-round pick Brian Orakpo and third-round supplemental pick Jeremy Jarmon, Blache has a lot more speed and depth to work with.

Haynesworth told me that he and Orakpo have been coming up with "games" during practice that will hopefully lead to sacks and turnovers. Haynesworth is coming off an 8.5 sack season, but says that is a total he is not worried about surpassing in 2009.

"I could have two sacks and still be happy as long as I'm taking on triple teams," Haynesworth said. "I love it when a team has to send everyone my way. That's when I really feel like I'm doing my job."

Haynesworth's only made it through all 16 games once in his career, but that doesn't concern him in the least.

"I'd rather play in 14 games at 1,000 percent than go out there and limp around through 16," he said.

Key questions

Who is going to end up as the No. 2 receiver?

Coach Jim Zorn is pleased with the progress that second-year wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are making. Kelly has shown a lot of maturity since struggling in last year's training camp. Quarterback Jason Campbell told me that Kelly has "crazy hands," which basically means he's snatching the ball from the air in traffic. Thomas is more of a deep threat. He's learning how to approach the game in a more structured way, which is helping him avoid some of the injuries that hampered him in 2008. I think he'll be the No. 2 receiver, but Kelly's not giving in.

 
  Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
  Quarterback Jason Campbell enters this season with some extra motivation.

How will Campbell fare in the final season of his contract?

Well, he couldn't have handled this situation with more grace. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent April looking for Campbell's replacement, but the quarterback kept showing up at the facility and trying to lead his teammates. The most important step he has taken is that he is getting through his reads a lot quicker. He'll take a peek at a receiver and then quickly move on. Last year, that wasn't happening all the time. He did a good job protecting the ball in the first half of the season, but now he needs to trust his instincts and take more shots downfield.

Could the lack of depth along the offensive line derail this season?

Absolutely. The Redskins haven't done a good job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Right tackle Stephon Heyer is ready to take the next step at right tackle, but right now they have Mike Williams backing him up. Williams has been out of the game for three years and I still don't think he is anywhere close to being a starter. Derrick Dockery is certainly an upgrade at guard and left tackle Chris Samuels has recovered nicely from being banged up last season. But the season will hinge on the starters staying healthy. Jeremy Bridges gives you at least one backup with some experience, but things get dicey after that.

  Rogers

Market watch

Carlos Rogers and Campbell played together at Auburn. They're both in make-or-break seasons. The Skins went out and spent big free agency money on DeAngelo Hall because he makes plays on the ball. Rogers has the size and athleticism to be a solid starter, but he hasn't always played with confidence. And I don't like hearing how inexperienced wide receiver Marko Mitchell keeps burning him in practice. This is the season Rogers needs to prove the Redskins made the right move taking him in the first round in 2005.

Newcomer to watch

I'm anxious to see how Orakpo takes to the SAM linebacker spot. He was a starter from Day 1. But what makes him an exceptional player is the fact that he chased down a bunch of Big 12 quarterbacks. Every time Orakpo has to drop back in coverage on first or second down is time he should be spending chasing the quarterback. Even Haynesworth told me he was surprised Orakpo wasn't lining up at defensive end all the time. But perhaps Orakpo will become a great linebacker. I just know that he could have a minimum of 10 sacks playing next to Haynesworth this season.

 
  Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRE
  Tight end Chris Cooley is showing improvement and could be poised for a huge season.

Observation deck

Sometimes you have to admit you made a mistake in the draft and simply cut your losses. The Redskins should do that with second-year cornerback Justin Tryon from Arizona State. At 5-foot-9, he doesn't have the size or the elite speed to cover wide receivers at this level. He made the Ravens' receivers look like world beaters last week. And that's not a talented group of wide receivers. ... Santana Moss is the heart and soul of the offense, but not many people know that. He's a relatively quiet guy who commands a lot of respect. Some veterans wouldn't want to groom the players who will eventually replace them. But Moss has jumped in and been a great mentor for Thomas and Kelly. ... Chris Cooley is about to have a huge season. He may be a little goofy off the field, but his speed and improved route running make him the perfect target for Campbell. Cooley could break through as an All-Pro this season. And yes, I know Anthony Gonzalez is playing for the Falcons and Jason Witten plays for the Cowboys. ... Trent Shelton is one of those wide receivers who shows up to a training camp and makes it impossible to cut him. He's not a speedster at all, but he can help you on special teams and he has pretty good size and body control. He always worked over the Texas A&M defense while at Baylor and he's taken that confidence into this camp. ... I like Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson as the safeties for the Giants, but for my money, LaRon Landry and Chris Horton could emerge as the best pair in the NFC. Horton loves playing downhill and he made some game-changing plays in 2008. Landry has the potential to replace Ed Reed as the best safety in the game someday. Now's a good time for him to start on that project. ... Colt Brennan likes to talk big, but he didn't back it up against the Ravens. He needs to bounce back with a nice performance this weekend to have any shot at overtaking Todd Collins as backup QB. ... Tight end Fred Davis is showing a lot more maturity in this camp and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an impact this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

As teams in the Beast attempt to sign their 2009 rookies, let's take a look back at the division's '08 class heading into training camp. Every team found an immediate impact player in '08, but in some cases, those players came from unlikely places.

Redskins safety Chris Horton was taken in the seventh round, but he quickly became a starter. Of course, we all know the early returns on the Skins' second-round receivers -- and tight end -- are shaky at best.

We'll go team by team and see which players are prepared to make the biggest leaps in '09. And let's also find out who's feeling the heat in terms of making the roster. Special thanks to NFC West blogger Mike Sando for coming up with this idea:

Dallas Cowboys

2008 picks: 6

Projected 2009 starters: (2) Cornerback Mike Jenkins, a first-round pick out of South Florida and RB Felix Jones, a first-round pick out of Arkansas (I think the Cowboys want to return Marion Barber to his closer's role).

Potential starters: (1) Cornerback Orlando Scandrick, a fifth-round pick out of Boise State definitely could beat out Jenkins. He made a quicker adjustment to the NFL last season and he's shown absolutely no fear. You could also see Martellus Bennett starting when the Cowboys open with two tight ends. He'll play enough to be considered a "starter."

On the hot seat: Jenkins is definitely the guy on the hot seat. He's remembered mostly for running away from Giants running back Derrick Ward last season. Jenkins has the elite speed and athleticism, but he had to take the next step in terms of grasping the defense. I think Scandrick's the better player right now.

No longer with the team: Linebacker Erik Walden of Middle Tennessee State joined the Cowboys' South Florida affiliate -- otherwise known as the Dolphins. He played in 15 games and did a nice job on special teams.

Keep an eye out for: The steal of this draft was running back Tashard Choice in the fourth round. He kept the Cowboys afloat last season when Barber and Jones were hurt. He could become a very valuable complementary back. And he can be more than that if anyone gets banged up. It's a tremendous luxury to have a player like Choice as a reserve.

New York Giants

2008 picks: 7

Projected 2009 starters: (1) First-round pick S Kenny Phillips out of Miami.

Potential starters: (1) Bryan Kehl out of BYU was a fourth-round pick who made a couple of spot starts last season at weakside linebacker. He had an interception in the win over the Steelers. Depending on what happens with Michael Boley's hip injury, Kehl definitely could be in the mix. I don't see him as a starter long term, but he's not someone who will hurt you.

On the hot seat: Wide receiver Mario Manningham is a player GM Jerry Reese was really excited about. He's going to have a huge opportunity to shine in camp while rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden try to figure out the offense.

No longer with the team: You might not have realized it, but former Southern Miss defensive end Robert Henderson is still on the roster. An ankle injury in the preseason knocked him out for the '08 season. I think it's obvious that quarterback Andre Woodson's days with this team are numbered. He spent last season on the practice squad -- except for one week. He's a project player who hasn't really shown a ton of improvement.

Keep an eye out for: As I've said several times this offseason, Phillips is poised to have a breakout season. I think he's a playmaker who could end up in the Pro Bowl this season. And cornerback Terrell Thomas came on strong after he was slowed by injury at the start of the '08 season. He's a playmaker who will make a valuable contribution in the nickel.

Philadelphia Eagles

2008 picks: 10

Projected 2009 starters: (2) Second-round pick WR DeSean Jackson out of Cal and fourth-round pick S Quintin Demps out of UTEP.

Potential starters: Already named

On the hot seat: I don't think he's really on the hot seat, but defensive tackle Trevor Laws needs to be more productive this season. The former Notre Dame star was their top overall pick in the '08 draft. He had a fumble recovery late in the season against Dallas, but the Eagles need him to become a key part of the rotation. He's not there yet.

No longer with the team: Andy Studebaker, a defensive end out of Wheaton College is now with the Chiefs.

Keep an eye out for: I'm interested to see how former fourth-round pick Mike McGlynn, an offensive lineman, responds to a torn hamstring that he suffered in the playoffs against the Vikings. I think another former fourth-round pick, Jack Ikegwuonu, will be an interesting player
to watch in camp. The defensive back hurt his knee leading up to the '08 campaign, but the Eagles liked his potential. He could be a camp surprise.

Washington Redskins

2008 picks: 10

Projected 2009 starters: (1) Safety Chris Horton should once again be starting opposite LaRon Landry.

Potential starters: (1) If Devin Thomas has a breakout training camp and preseason, there's always a chance he could challenge Antwaan Randle El for that No. 2 receiver role. I think Thomas will be vastly improved, but I don't see him as the starter.

On the hot seat: Well, you could start with the guy we just discussed. Thomas has all the tools you want from a receiver, but we'll have to see if he can take it to the field. Second-round pick Fred Davis showed some immaturity last season. He needs to grow up and become a complementary player to fellow tight end Chris Cooley. And who knows what to expect from wide receiver Malcolm Kelly? I'm not holding my breath on him.

No longer with the team: The punter from the sixth round, Durant Brooks, is long gone. The Skins gave him every opportunity to stick, but he wasn't ready for prime time.

Keep an eye out for: I'm very interested in seeing how offensive lineman Chad Rinehart (third round) and cornerback J.T. Tryon (fourth) look in this training camp. Longtime offensive line coach Joe Bugel didn't think much of Rinehart after the season, but he's since said that the player's shown a lot of improvement in the offseason. Tryon wasn't close to contributing in '08, but secondary coach Jerry Gray says he's getting there. Those are two players who everyone will be watching closely. Right now, it seems like Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato hit on one player in the seventh round. But that can change this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

As far as NFL executives go, the Redskins' Vinny Cerrato is normally about the closest thing to an open book as you'll find. When his position as owner Daniel Snyder's right-hand man was eliminated by coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2001, Cerrato took his gift of the gab to ESPN, where he served as a college football analyst.

But before Snyder could even deliver the news that Schottenheimer was fired after one season, Cerrato was back on the payroll. The two have been inseparable ever since, which is something that annoys a lot of Redskins fans. Coaches come and go, but Cerrato is the one constant.

 
  Andy Lyons/Getty Images
  Second-round picks Fred Davis and Devin Thomas have yet to contribute much on the field.

He's now the executive vice president of football operations and he's led a delegation of coaches and scouts to the NFL combine this week in Indianapolis. I visited with him for about 20 minutes Thursday, although I did most of the visiting. Unlike our conversations in the past, Cerrato seemed determined not to shed any light on which direction the Redskins might go in free agency and the draft.

Cerrato asked whether Giants general manager Jerry Reese had pulled back the curtain on his plans for Plaxico Burress. I quickly informed him that Reese had e-mailed the plan over that very morning.

Cerrato's sick of hearing the same questions, but they're not going away anytime soon. When you draft two wide receivers and a tight end in the second round of the 2008 draft and they combine to do virtually nothing, the questions come from every direction. Devin Thomas has game-breaking speed, but his work ethic came into question last year. Malcolm Kelly had a knee injury and tight end Fred Davis out of USC seems like somewhat of a flake. Cerrato defended the draft picks, but he's also challenged each of them.

"You can't panic," he said. "The two receivers missed all of training camp. Malcolm had the knee injury. Devin and Fred will improve a lot. But I've told them them that our improvement as a team depends a lot on how they do this offseason. I'm putting the pressure on those guys."

Most people were relieved to see the Redskins bypass all the wild-spending in free agency to build through the draft last April. But out of nine picks, seventh-rounder Chris Horton was the only player to make a significant impact. On the surface, it looks like the Redskins grossly overestimated the core group of players that helped them make an emotional playoff run following Sean Taylor's tragic death in 2007.

Over the last eight years, the Redskins haven't made drafting offensive and defensive linemen a major priority. It's hard to believe they have drafted only four interior linemen in the first four rounds of the draft since 2000. And that's a large reason they now have the oldest offensive line in the NFL.

You can talk about the quarterback and the lack of a pass rush all you want, but this team's collapse in the second half of last season coincided with the breakdown of the offensive line. Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, a former first-round pick, suffered a season-ending injury and veteran players such as Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas and Pete Kendall appeared to wear down. Kendall is an unrestricted free agent and coach Jim Zorn revealed Thursday that Thomas recently underwent surgery for a neck injury.

Jason Campbell
#17 QB
Washington Redskins

2008 STATS
YDS CMP% TD INT RAT
3,245 62.3 13 6 84.3

But since this league's all about the quarterback, it's important to note that Jason Campbell is entering the final year of his contract. He would like the security of an extension this offseason, but the Redskins aren't showing any interest in making that happen. I reminded Cerrato (not that he needed it) how Jerry Jones ended up paying Tony Romo an extra $10 million or so because the quarterback played so well early in a contract year. And the Cardinals are now dealing with a similar issue with Kurt Warner. Still, Cerrato told me the Redskins don't feel any pressure to extend Campbell at this point.

"He made some strides last year," Cerrato said of Campbell. "He cut down his turnovers. I thought he made great strides with that."

But I've spent enough time with Campbell to know that he functions best when he believes the organization is completely behind him. The fact the Redskins aren't even considering an extension will be weighing on his mind as he enters t
he 2009 season. I know it was something that bothered Romo in 2007, but he used it as motivation and ended up sticking it to Jones, who didn't mind that much since the Cowboys were winning games.

Cerrato said he's talked to the agents for all of the team's unrestricted free agents. He didn't come out and say it, but it's pretty obvious that re-signing free-agent cornerback DeAngelo Hall is a major priority. Cerrato confirmed that he will meet with Hall's agent at the combine to discuss a long-term deal. But with corners such as the Colts' Kelvin Hayden receiving lucrative deals already, there's really no hope of Hall giving the Redskins a hometown discount.

"We're going to meet with his people," Cerrato said. "He played really well for us last year."

On the surface, it doesn't look like the Redskins have the salary cap space to do anything dramatic in free agency, but Cerrato said the team is in position to be relatively aggressive.

"We'll have room to do things," he said. "We've moved some things around to put us in position."

 
  AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
  Many mock drafts have the Redskins selecting Texas DE Brian Orakpo with the No. 13 pick.

Of all the things that go into the combine, Cerrato said he values the interview sessions the most. The Redskins normally have six or seven people sitting in the room, and they used to bring in a psychologist. Cerrato said that quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Brady Quinn were two of the best interviews he's observed.

"I like the interviews because it's sort of an unknown," Cerrato said. "But the most important thing in the whole process is the film. That's where you gather a lot of the information."

Cerrato said the best combine workout he's ever seen involved former Notre Dame safety Tom Carter, who had 18 interceptions for the Redskins from 1993-96. He said Carter had a 42-inch vertical and ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash.

Cerrato's hoping he can find someone with similar ability in the No. 13 spot. The Redskins could end up taking an offensive lineman or a pass-rusher. He said this draft has a lot of "tweeners" at defensive end and outside linebacker. Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo keeps showing up on mock drafts at 13, but Cerrato wasn't about to tip his hand.

With only four picks in April's draft, though, the Redskins don't have much margin for error.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at Arizona Cardinals (3-2), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Cowboys have spent the week dealing with distractions caused by Adam "Pacman" Jones' latest incident. Even if Jones plays -- and all indications are that he will -- the Cowboys' secondary will have its hands full with the Cardinals' passing attack. I expect the Cowboys to play quite a bit of man-to-man coverage in an attempt to give DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis more time to rush Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. I'd be shocked if the Cardinals are able to run on the Cowboys. They won't even pretend to keep the Cowboys' defense honest, although the Redskins gashed the Cowboys with the run.

Expect the Cardinals to take a page out of the Redskins' game plan and jam Terrell Owens at the line of scrimmage. It worked for Washington and it worked for the Bengals for three quarters. T.O. doesn't do well against anyone who gets physical with him at the line of scrimmage. I think the Cowboys will put up enough points to win, but it should be an entertaining game.

St. Louis Rams (0-4) at Washington Redskins (4-1), 1 p.m. ET

The Redskins can't let the Rams hang around for too long in this one. How will the Rams perform under interim head coach Jim Haslett? Well, I don't think much will change. Jason Campbell will look to get Santana Moss and Chris Cooley involved early and then the Redskins should coast home with Clinton Portis and the running game.

There's a chance this game is close for a half. The Redskins have strung together two emotional NFC East wins on the road. Jim Zorn has spent the week reminding players of the proverbial trap game. This one won't be pretty, but the Redskins will improve to 5-1. In fact, they'll be 7-1 at the midway point. Just a remarkable story. So much for this team being last in the NFC East. I don't see them fading at all. Players such as safety Chris Horton keep improving every week.

New York Giants (4-0) at Cleveland Browns (1-3), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

Is it really a good idea for the Browns to talk trash when they have a 1-3 record? This was a team that has shrunk in the face of major expectations. I want to believe that we'll see a close game, but I think Eli Manning and the Giants' receiving corps will shred this secondary.

And the Browns are picking on the wrong guy. Running back Brandon Jacobs is coming off his best game of the season, and he'll be looking to punish the Browns. Playing a game without starting wide receiver Plaxico Burress only helped the Giants gain confidence.

This is a game in which defensive end Justin Tuck will serve notice that he's a player to be reckoned with. Giants fans already know it, but the rest of the nation will get to see it Monday.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at San Francisco 49ers (2-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

Call it the Mediocre Bowl. I guess you could argue that the 49ers have exceeded our expectations while the Eagles have faded fast after a strong start. The Eagles won't have All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook. Correll Buckhalter should fill in nicely, but we thought the same thing two weeks ago against the Bears.

Andy Reid is running out of excuses. This team makes mistakes at key moments in games. I'm thinking you might want to dial up Donovan McNabb on a quarterback sneak if you have another goal-line situation. The Eagles came out with what looked like an aggressive game plan against the Redskins. But after the first couple of drives, the offense went into a holding pattern.

On defense, the linebackers must do a better job of tackling or Frank Gore will have a big day. He has over 600 yards from the line of scrimmage. You better account for him on every play. I think the Eagles win going away, but I've written those words before and been wrong.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

No matter what the Redskins personnel department might say, choosing a player 249th overall is a crapshoot. At that point, you could gamble on the player not being drafted and have a decent shot of signing him as a free agent.

 
 AP Photo/Donna McWilliam
 Safety Chris Horton snagged his third interception of the season in a big win over Dallas.

But the Redskins went ahead and took UCLA safety Chris Horton in the seventh round, and four games into his rookie season, they can't keep him off the field. From the first time he put on the burgundy and gold in the Hall of Fame preseason game, he's consistently been around the football.

When the team's former starting safety Reed Doughty sent Horton a text that he might be too sick to play against the Saints in Week 2, he had no clue he was about to be Wally Pipped. Horton, who grew up in the Fifth Ward in New Orleans, had two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the Redskins' 29-24 victory over his childhood team. He earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and became an instant fan favorite.

Head coach Jim Zorn attempted to temper some of the enthusiasm by saying Doughty would remain the starter, but it was too late. After a win over the Cardinals, Horton was promoted to starting strong safety against the Cowboys. But if you're worried about all this going to Horton's head, you've got the wrong kid.

Some players who are drafted late carry a chip on their shoulder. Horton, though, almost seems amused by where he was drafted, saying he doesn't really blame teams for passing him by.

"They said I was tight in the hips, couldn't play man-to-man, had poor ball skills and no range," said Horton. "But I already knew I might not be the best safety around. I just felt like I was a good football player."

Horton admits that some of his rookie mistakes have been covered up by all the talk of his three interceptions. Redskins coaches actually removed him from Sunday's game against the Cowboys in favor of more experience, but he returned in time to make another huge play. With the Redskins clinging to a 20-17 lead in the second half, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo spotted a wide-open Miles Austin in the right flat. Horton was near the line of scrimmage, and he was supposed to key on a potential run.

But when he saw Romo's "eyes get real big," Horton went racing toward the sideline. Romo never saw him enter the picture, and Horton had his third interception of the season. The Redskins added a field goal to make it 23-17 and held on for a huge division win.

"I was supposed to play underneath the trail receiver," Horton said. "So I was going out there regardless of where [Romo] threw it that direction or not."

Horton said all his buddies from UCLA have been shocked by his interceptions. He made a lot of tackles in 41 games for the Bruins, but finished his career with only four interceptions.

"As a college player, I wasn't so fortunate to catch all those balls," said Horton. "My ex-teammates keep asking where these hands came from. I used to sort of freak out when the ball was in the air. I can remember one of my coaches telling me after the season that I'd missed seven opportunities. I definitely had some brick hands."

Horton began showing up early for practices to catch more balls. And so far this season, he's seized nearly every opportunity. He's the first rookie to have four takeaways in his first four games since Andre Young did it for the Chargers in 1982.

Horton was the 10th player selected by the Redskins in April, which means those lucrative bonuses that second-rounders Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis received didn't trickle down to him. But that said, he's already sending money home to help his mother in New Orleans.

Horton was heading into his sophomore season at UCLA when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the home he grew up in. Most of his family had evacuated, but his 90-year-old great grandfather, George Falley, refused to leave. Falley had been a source of inspiration to his great grandson for years. He attended Horton's football games and served as a constant sounding board.

"He had such high energy," Horton said. "It was like he was a 50-year-old 90-year-old. He just didn't worry about aging, and you couldn't help but learn from him."

The family held out hope that Falley had been able to ride out the storm, and they simply couldn't reach him. Horton said a couple of months passed before his great grandfather's body was recovered.

"He just said he'd been there all his life, and he didn't want to leave," Horton said. "He'd been through some hurricanes, but obviously, this one was different."

Horton's family lost everything in the flood, but the thing that bothers him most is all the pictures that were destroyed.

"It's weird because there's no recollection of what we looked like as kids," he said. "We have to go over to some of my aunts' houses to try and remember."

Horton wants to use the money he makes in the league to help his family as it continues to recover from Katrina. And at the rate he's going, you would anticipate a more lucrative deal in the not-so-distant future.

For now, it doesn't seem like the instant success has changed Horton. He stays at home most nights watching re-runs of Showtime's "Dexter" with friends and playing video games online. A few weeks ago, a local teacher sent him a copy of "Horton Hears a Who!" to sign for her class. Horton not only signed the book, but promised to show up and read the book to her students.

"I almost watched the movie the other night," said Horton, "but I got distracted by a football game."

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

I'm told the Bengals receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson came out smokin' today in a news conference with the Dallas media. I'll try to track down the entire transcript a little later, but here's the headliner, courtesy of the Dallas Morning News:

Chad Ocho Cinco: "I've got so much respect for y'all, if I score Sunday, I've love Dallas so much, I'm going to take my helmet off, get a fine and kiss the star."

Q: The one at midfield?

CO: Midfield? That's a long [expletive] jog.

Q: What do you mean 'if?'

CO: OK, when I score, I'm going to take my helmet off and kiss the star. Can I do that?

Q: Why not?

CO: That's not a sign of disrespect. That's a good thing isn't it?

And here's more fantastic stuff from Ocho Cinco:

"Get up, get your pen, get your records, get everything you need to get, because I'm letting it rip. I'm not holding nothin' back. We 0-4. We pissed off. I'm pissed off. The players over here are pissed off. Somebody's got to pay.

"I want you to tell [defensive coordinator] Brian Stewart that I love him to death, but somebody's got to get it."

"Man, we are going to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, out there in Dallas. I'm bringing the cold tub, the hot tub, I'm bringing the training room. What else can we do?"

That certainly seems like a lot of equipment for one man to transport to Dallas. OK, I'm headed out to Valley Ranch to listen to T.O. And don't worry. The entire afternoon will be devoted to the Eagles, Giants and Redskins. I have a phone interview set up with Redskins safety Chris Horton a little later. Talk soon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The fact that opposing defensive coordinators are already devising game plans around Eagles rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson speaks to the impact he's had on the league. Other than the brilliant but ill-fated T.O. era, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has spent his career throwing to players who would be third or fourth receivers on other teams.

The Todd Pinkstons and James Thrashes of the world served a purpose, but for the most part, McNabb has made do with somewhat average weapons on the outside. That's why it seems remarkable that after one regular-season game Jackson forced Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart to account for him on every play. In case you didn't know, defensive coaches loathe admitting that they're having to sell out to stop one player. That's not what Stewart did, but you get the feeling he might think about it in December.

The intent was to not let Jackson beat them deep under any circumstances, but there he was racing toward a 61-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The fact that he dropped the ball at the 1-yard line goes down as an embarrassing footnote, but it does nothing to diminish his immense talent. When's the last time an NFL receiver began his career with two consecutive 100-yard games? Does 1940 sound about right? (It was another Eagle, Don Looney.)

In most divisions, Jackson would be stealing all the headlines, but this is the Beast we're talking about. Other than the second-round receivers in Washington (so far), the Day 1 draftees look like keepers. Of course, people get fired if they're not, but that's another column.

 
 Icon SMI
 Chris Horton, left, was named NFC defensive player of the week for his performance against the Saints.

In Washington, a folk hero named Chris Horton has emerged. He woke up Sunday morning and received a text message from starting safety Reed Doughty telling him that he might be too sick to play. Horton destroyed everything in his path (including teammates) early in the preseason. He didn't care that he'd been taken five rounds after the underwhelming duo of Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. The former UCLA player seemed to have a nose for the football, and that's a good thing for a defense that desperately needs to force turnovers.

In his first career start Sunday against the Saints, Horton finished with two interceptions and a fumble recovery in leading his team to a 29-24 victory. He was honored as the NFC defensive player of the week, and he's making it tough for defensive coordinator Greg Blache to keep him off the field.

Former Miami Hurricane Kenny Phillips is having a similar impact for the Giants, who made him the final pick in the first round. In the months that have followed, I've started to hear other teams' scouts talk about how they coveted Phillips. He hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet, but he takes the field in the dime package. GM Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin know that he'll be starting for the next six or seven years, so there's no rush.

Phillips, though, was the buzz of training camp. He has the rare ability to make plays in coverage and then be physical near the line of scrimmage. In the tradition of other safeties from the U, he loves to punish opposing players.

"You don't like playing against guys like that," Plaxico Burress recently told the New York Times. "They can be in the middle of the field, the quarterback can look him off, throw to the other side of the field, and he's right there to put his helmet under your chin or pick the football off. There's only a few guys in the league that can do things like that."

 

When I sat down with Reese during training camp for an hour, the conversation kept turning back to Phillips. He sorts of glides around the field, but when the ball is thrown, he has what scouts refer to as "sudden speed." And the fact that he has excellent ball skills gives him the potential to be a six- or seven-interceptions-a-season guy.

 

The Cowboys made a decision in April to take a complementary back in Felix Jones over feature back Rashard Mendenhall out of Illinois. So far, it looks like a smart choice. Jones flashed his speed early in the preseason, but everyone had been waiting to see what he could do in the return game. The Cowboys haven't had a consistent threat in the return game in years. Maybe you could count Reggie Swinton, but even that's a stretch. With Jones returning kicks and Adam Jones punts, the return game appears to be a strength for the team.

 

Playing in his first Monday night game, Jones took one back 98 yards for a touchdown against the Eagles. Some Cowboys fans have worried about Jones getting hurt returning kicks, but it's tough to suffer an injury when no one touches you.

 

I've talked to former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and offensive coordinator David Lee about Jones. They say the only thing more impressive than his speed and vision is the fact that he's an incredible person off the field. They told stories of how he would take $20 out of his scholarship check and then send the rest home to his parents. No telling what he does now that he's making millions.

 

If there's another division in the league right now in which rookies are making this type of impact, I'd love to hear about it. Coaches are supposed to be patient with playing rookies, but this bunch is making that impossible.

 

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