Pittsburgh Steelers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

PITTSBURGH – All signs point to the Steelers taking a cornerback or wide receiver with their first-round pick in a couple of weeks.

If they address another position with the 15th overall pick, who might be in play?

I posed that question to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, and he named three players: North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.

Clinton-Dix, to me, is the most unlikely of the three to get drafted by the Steelers.

The Steelers got younger at safety when they signed Mike Mitchell and they are also expecting a big jump from Shamarko Thomas in his second season.

It’s hard to see the Steelers using a first-round pick on a safety given the investment they have made in the position and the need they have at other positions.

Ebron is an intriguing prospect because of his size and athleticism. He is the top tight end in the draft but there are two questions when it comes to the former Tar Heels star: Will he last until the 15th pick? If he does is Ebron both an able enough and willing blocker for the Steelers to take him?

The biggest concern when it comes to Mosley is his injury history.

He sustained at least three major injuries at Alabama and that might make enough teams wary of taking Mosley that he slides in the first round even though he is a top-1o talent.

“I think he’s going to fall a little bit because of durability concerns,” McShay said Thursday during a conference call with ESPN NFL Nation reporters. “You either pass him [medically] or you don’t. If [the Steelers] view him as a top-10, top-12 pick and he’s there, you can plug and play with that guy. He’d be an immediate improvement over Vince Williams.”

McShay said there is a huge drop-off at inside linebacker after Mosley and Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, a likely second-round pick.

Mosley is ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s ninth-best player in the draft in part because of his ability to cover the pass. Kiper, however, said Mosley is not a good fit for the Steelers even though he could play right away and provide an upgrade at inside linebacker.

“I don’t see Mosley as a Steelers type of linebacker,” Kiper said. “He’s not the most physically imposing inside linebacker, he’s had some durability issues at Alabama. You have to be concerned with Alabama defensive players in general with the success rate they have not had [in the NFL].”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are hosting two linebackers for visits today, including a potential first-round pick, as well as one of the top all-around safeties in the draft.

Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier and UCLA’s Jordan Zumwalt are meeting with the Steelers at their practice facility as well Washington State safety Deone Bucannon.

Shazier has been widely projected as a first-round pick and the Steelers would be looking at the former Buckeyes star as an inside linebacker.

Shazier recorded 101 tackles in 2013, the third-highest single-season total in Ohio State history, and the 6-foot-1, 237-pounder has excellent speed.

The Steelers will almost certainly get only one crack at Shazier, as he shouldn’t get drafted any later than the early part of the second round.

“You could make an argument he’s one of the 10 best football players in this draft based on being a pure, instinctive football player,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of Shazier.

Zumwalt also projects as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and the former UCLA star is expected to get drafted in the third or fourth round. The 6-4, 235-pound Zumwalt recorded 91 tackles last season and intercepted a pair of passes.

Bucannon is one of the top safeties in the draft and is in the tier of players at the position after Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.

The 6-1, 211-pounder had 15 career interceptions at Washington State, including six last season when he also recorded 78 tackles and forced three fumbles. Bucannon could get drafted as high as the second round.

This is the first day that the Steelers are hosting draft prospects since Monday.

General manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin each attended pro days at Penn State and LSU the previous two days.

The Steelers are allowed to host 30 prospects for pre-draft visits and they have met with two linebackers and two safeties this week.

Pryor, a projected first-round pick, visited the Steelers on Monday.
The Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft after finishing 8-8 last season, and taking a cornerback, wide receiver or defensive lineman with their first-round pick would make a lot of sense.

Todd McShay’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today and he has the Steelers addressing arguably their biggest need with their first pick, taking Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and making the 5-foot-11, 199-pounder the first cornerback taken in next month’s draft.

Safety watch: Deone Bucannon

March, 7, 2014
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ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Steelers taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first-round pick in his latest mock draft.

The Steelers could go a number of different ways with the 15th overall pick, and even if they use it on another position, they will take a safety at some point in the draft.

A potential safety target for the Steelers after the first round is Washington State’s Deone Bucannon.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder stood out to ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench when the latter broke down tape of the defensive backs in this year’s draft.

Muench compared Bucannon to 49ers safety Eric Reid, a first-round pick last year who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Here is what Muench wrote in praising Bucannon’s all-around game:
He has the upper body strength and arm length to play in the box in addition to the closing burst to get downhill when he lines up deep. The occasional missed tackle in space and bad angle show up, but they aren't repetitively glaring issues Bucannon isn't a one-dimensional run stopper either. He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine, and it's an accurate reflection of the speed you see on tape. He has the range to play a center fielder-type role over the top and he can run with most slot receivers, let alone tight ends.

His greatest strength may be his ability to change the complexion of a game. He's a turnover machine who intercepted 15 passes and forced seven fumbles in four seasons at Washington State. A heavy hitter, he has the closing burst, ball skills and aggressive nature to continue to make impact plays at the next level.

On the downside, he can get caught out of position biting on play-action or gambling in an effort to make a play. He also has tighter hips that make it tough for him to mirror receivers getting in and out of breaks. He has a similar height-weight-speed ratio to the 49ers' 2013 first-round pick and No. 18 overall, safety Eric Reid out of LSU, but Bucannon's not as fluid.

Muench projects Bucannon as a second-round pick and a player who still should be available when the Steelers make their second pick in the 2014 draft.

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Steelers

March, 6, 2014
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The re-signings of Troy Polamalu and Will Allen have not made safety any less of a priority in the 2014 NFL draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who are not expected to re-sign starting free safety Ryan Clark, have to draft at least one safety in May in preparation for the post-Polamalu years.

The consensus is that Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the top two safety prospects in the draft, and ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Steelers taking Clinton-Dix Insider in his third mock draft, which was unveiled Thursday.

McShay had the Steelers taking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III in his two previous mock drafts, including one right after the NFL scouting combine. He now has the Steelers addressing their secondary with the 15th overall pick, and here is what he wrote:
"I think Pittsburgh’s priorities should be to get younger on defense and upgrade the offensive line, but in this scenario there isn’t a tackle who really justifies a top-15 pick (although Zack Martin at least merits consideration). If they trade back, nose tackle Louis Nix III could be an option, but I have enough concerns about his 2013 performance that I don’t think he’d go off the board this early. So I think this pick comes down to the best available secondary player, and Clinton-Dix is a playmaker at the safety position, with really good range."


What is interesting in regard to Nix is the one time the Steelers have traded down in the first round since Kevin Colbert joined the organization in 2000 happened in 2001. The Steelers moved from No. 16 to No. 19, swapping places with the Jets while also receiving fourth- and sixth-round picks from New York.

They used that pick on nose tackle and hit big, literally and figuratively, on Casey Hampton. Nix has been linked to the Steelers because of the perceived need for a successor to Hampton, who was not re-signed after the 2012 season.

Also noteworthy from McShay’s latest mock draft is he has the Lions taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans 10th overall and Pryor going to the Rams with the 13th pick in the draft.

McShay has the Bears, who pick one spot ahead of the Steelers taking Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He also has five cornerbacks going in the first round with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert coming off the board at No. 8 to the Vikings.

McShay has a run on cornerback starting with the Cardinals taking Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard at No. 20. The other cornerbacks going in the first round of McShay’s mock draft are Ohio State’s Bradley Roby (Eagles), Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller (Bengals) and TCU’s Jason Verrett (Chargers).

Mike Evans climbs Kiper's 'Big Board'

February, 27, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Few players helped themselves more at the NFL scouting combine than Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/Michael ConroyMike Evans' combination of size and speed means he won't be on the board long come draft day.
That widely shared opinion is reflected in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s post-combine list of the top 25 players in the draft, and it is not necessarily a good thing for the Steelers.

Evans shot up Kiper’s “Big Board,” moving from No. 15 to No. 6 after performing well in Indianapolis.

Evans, one of the tallest wide receivers in the draft, ran a better-than-expected 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That speed, along with Evans’ size and ball skills, has solidified his standing as the second-best wide receiver in the draft -- and one who may have run himself out of the Steelers’ reach.

The Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the draft but Evans could be gone before they make their first selection.

Here is what Kiper wrote about Evans on his updated Big Board:
Evans put together an exceptional combine with great speed and leaping ability for a player his size. No player in the draft is better on contested throws, and every quarterback wants a target like this. Evans uses his reach, jumping ability and long frame to beat shorter defenders like a good rebounder (and he was a good rebounder on the basketball court). I've been concerned about his off-the-line quickness, but he clearly has good top-end speed. Evans could also be a versatile threat -- used on the edge or in the slot to create matchup problems -- because you simply can't defend his size. Seems likely to land in the top 10 now.

Evans did not make as big a jump on ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s list of the top 32 players in the draft, but had already been in the top 10 and he moved up a spot to No. 7. Here is what McShay wrote in a post-combine update of his top 32 prospects:
[Evans] showcased excellent hands during the gauntlet drill at the combine, and his 4.53 40 time is good for a receiver his size. I've been describing him as a pit bull in terms of his on-field competitiveness; he is one of the best receivers I've ever seen in terms of coming down with contested catches, and he is the most proven downfield threat in this class. I expect him to come off the board somewhere between Nos. 10 and 20.

Southern Cal wide receiver Marqise Lee is No. 15 on Kiper's Big Board while McShay has Louisville safety Calvin Pryor as the 15th-best prospect in the draft. Pryor is one spot ahead of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

More post-combine safety chatter

February, 26, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Post-combine mock drafts by CBS Sports' draft analysts Dane Brugler and Rob Rang have the Pittsburgh Steelers taking a safety with their first pick -- albeit different ones.

Brugler has the Steelers selecting Louisville's Calvin Pryor, and Rang has them taking Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 15 overall.

Brugler has the Steelers picking Pryor -- even with Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans still on his board. Rang has Evans going a couple of picks before the Steelers in the first round.

Neither Pryor nor Clinton-Dix ran great in the 40-yard dash -- each posted official times of 4.58 seconds Tuesday in Indianapolis -- but of course, that is only one component of the combine. I'm not sure the Steelers will think either is worth taking so high in the draft, but Clinton-Dix appears to be a better fit for them if they do use their first-round selection on a safety.

Clinton-Dix is the more prototypical free safety, and the Steelers have more of a need there with Ryan Clark unlikely to return to Pittsburgh and 2013 fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas more suited to eventually succeed Troy Polamalu at strong safety.

If the Steelers opt to take a safety later in the draft, Florida State's Terrence Brooks (more on Brooks) and Southern Cal's Dion Bailey are two players that may interest them.

Bailey has a connection to the Steelers as defensive backs coach Carnell Lake tried recruit him when the latter coached at UCLA.

“Me and him have a very strong relationship,” Bailey said of Lake. “Then he was at (UCLA) pro day last year. He led the (defensive backs) drills so I talked to him for about an hour and he was giving me advice about what to expect making the transition (to safety) and what I needed to do.”

Indeed, Bailey played outside linebacker at USC for two seasons before making the transition to safety.

He only ran a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, a time he will try to improve on next month at USC's pro day, but he is an intriguing mid-round prospect for a couple of reasons.

In college, Bailey was productive -- he recorded 222 tackles and intercepted 11 passes in three seasons -- and he played all over the field.

The 6-foot, 202-pounder should have some upside as a safety since he only played the position one year in college, and Bailey compared himself to another USC product whose skill set defies scheme.

“I feel like my game resembles Troy Polamalu's game very well,” Bailey said. “He went through the same transition in college as me, playing linebacker his first couple years and then playing safety He transitioned to the NFL really well. I'm hoping I have the same career.”
PITTSBURGH -- Terrence Brooks said he considers himself the best safety in the 2014 draft, something that runs contrary to the opinion of NFL draft analysts.

The Florida State product can make one claim following the NFL scouting combine: No safety in this year’s draft is faster than Brooks.

Brooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds on Tuesday, tops among the safeties in the draft and considerably faster than the times posted by Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Brooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhFlorida State defensive back Terrence Brooks turned heads at the combine when he ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash.
The two safeties who are widely considered the best ones in the draft each turned in official 40-yard dash times of 4.56 seconds.

The Steelers will take a safety at some point in the draft, but they may need to be blown away to take Clinton-Dix or Pryor at No. 15 overall. Consider that since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Steelers have used their first-round pick on a safety only one time.

That happened in 2003, when they traded up to take Troy Polamalu at No. 16.

To say that worked out well for them is an understatement, but even with safety an obvious need, do the Steelers see Clinton-Dix or Pryor as the kind of game-changer who is worth taking in the first half of the draft?

Brooks has emerged as one of the top options if the Steelers wait until later in the draft to grab a safety, and here are more things to like about him aside from his straight-line speed:

  • Brooks is self-assured but he also plays with a bit of an edge due to arriving at Florida State as less celebrated than a lot of the other recruits in his class.
  • Brooks played cornerback at Florida State before converting to safety. That should translate into his having the kind of coverage skills that are necessary for a free safety at the next level.
  • Brooks regularly practiced against elite competition at Florida State, and he said he matched up against Seminoles wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin at times. Look at the drafts under general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin and it’s pretty clear the Steelers value players who come from pedigreed programs and power conferences.
  • Brooks, who turns 22 next week, played all four years at Florida State and is not among the record number of underclassmen who are in the draft. Colbert said last week at the combine that the maturity level of some of the younger players in the draft is a concern. That presumably wouldn’t be as much of a concern with Brooks.

Brooks isn’t the biggest safety -- he checked in at 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds in Indianapolis -- and he got overshadowed at Florida State on a defense that was loaded with future NFL players. But he may have pushed his way into the second round of the draft with the sheer speed he displayed at the combine, and he wasn’t lacking for confidence before arriving in Indianapolis.

“I have a great feel for knowing where the ball is going. I’m fast and quick and physical, too,” said Brooks, who was fifth on the Seminoles with 56 tackles in 2013 and also intercepted two passes. “Any team that wants to take a chance on me won’t be disappointed.”

Countdown to combine: Steelers

February, 17, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- With the NFL scouting combine starting Feb. 22, we review positions of need and who the Steelers might be looking at during the combine.

Position of need: Safety

Ryan Clark, the starter at free safety since 2006, is unlikely to be re-signed. Strong safety Troy Polamalu is on the back stretch of his career. The Steelers need to get younger on the back end of their defense, and finding a long-term starter at free safety may be one of their top priorities in the 2014 NFL draft. Look for the Steelers to select at least one safety a year after they traded a third-round pick so they could take Shamarko Thomas, the likely successor to Polamalu, in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.

Three players the Steelers might be targeting

Terrence Brooks, Florida State: Brooks, overshadowed a bit on a defense that led the nation in scoring (12.8 points allowed per game), could be an option for the Steelers if they don’t use their first two picks on a safety. They get another look at the former Seminole in Indianapolis after watching him at the Senior Bowl. The 5-11, 197-pound Brooks doesn’t have great size but he is strong in pass coverage, having converted from cornerback to safety after his sophomore season at Florida State. One intangible the Steelers may like about Brooks: He was not among the most heavily recruited players in his class, and he used that to drive him and play as a true freshman in Tallahassee.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: The Steelers will take a long look at the player who goes into the combine as the best safety prospect in the draft. Clinton-Dix coverage skills make him a good fit for a team that has more of a need at free safety, but the Steelers have only drafted one safety in the first-round of the draft since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Of course that safety turned out to be the transcendent Polamalu in 2003. The more apt comparison when it comes to Clinton-Dix may be Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas, the 14th overall pick of the 2010 draft. If the Steelers think Clinton-Dix can develop into a player of Thomas’ ilk then they have to seriously consider taking him at No. 15.

Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: Ward is another player the Steelers will get a chance to evaluate after seeing him at the Senior Bowl. Ward shined in Mobile, Ala., last month answering questions about how he would fare against better competition. Ward’s showing at the Senior Bowl built on a senior season in which he intercepted seven passes and recorded 95 tackles. The 5-11, 191-pounder isn’t the biggest guy so it is imperative he runs well at the Combine. Ward has been widely projected as a second- or third-day pick so he may be an option for the Steelers if they don’t take a safety in the first round. Ward is one of the best prospects in a safety class that is not considered deep. "He’s not a big safety, but he fits today's NFL with his coverage ability and he makes so many impact plays," ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "He could go second or third round, but he's going to be a fast riser."

Steelers' position outlook: S

February, 5, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- This is the 13th in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season – and look take a look ahead.

Safeties

2014 free agents: Will Allen and Ryan Clark

The good: Troy Polamalu played every snap after missing nine games the previous season because of a recurring calf injury, and the 11th-year veteran wreaked his usual havoc. Polamalu led the Steelers with five forced fumbles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and also recorded a pair of sacks. Polamalu, who was fifth on the Steelers with 68 tackles and was voted to his eighth Pro Bowl, held up remarkably well considered he played a significant number of snaps at inside linebacker in the team’s quarter package. Clark also played every game and finished second in tackles (104) while intercepting two passes. Allen resuscitated his career after getting released by the Cowboys during the season, and he played regularly in the quarter package in the second half of the season while also contributing on special teams.

The bad: The Steelers were prone to giving up big plays and part of that can be attributed to a lack of overall speed on the back end of their defense. Polamalu is clearly better playing closer to the line of scrimmage than in deep coverage where opposing quarterbacks can take advantage of his propensity to gamble. Clark, while productive, also looked age had caught up with him in 2013. No young players emerged behind Polamalu and Clark, who played a combined -- and whopping -- 2,067 snaps last season. Rookie Shamarko Thomas showed promise and worked his way into the quarter package as a third safety. But the fourth-round draft pick did not play a defensive snap in the final five games after returning from a high-ankle sprain.

The money (2014 salary cap numbers): Polamalu’s cap hit in the final year of his contract is just under $11 million. He probably will have to take a pay cut but will almost certainly return in 2014 as team president Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to retire as a Steeler. Clark’s $4.75 million cap hit in 2013 comes off the books, and he is unlikely to return.

Draft priority: Extremely high. The Steelers have to get younger in the secondary, and they could use the 15th overall pick in the draft on such as Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who could be Clark’s long-term successor at free safety. The Steelers figure to draft at least one safety, and they could sniff around for one in free agency. In 2006, the Steelers made an under-the-radar signing of Clark and that paid huge dividends for them.

Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag

January, 25, 2014
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Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag and thank you for all of the great questions. Those who sent questions that weren't answered they are at the top of the list for next week's mailbag. Please keep the questions coming and send them via Twitter to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #steelersmail.

And away we go:

 

The next big thing: Steelers

January, 22, 2014
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The Steelers have 21 unrestricted free agents and team president Art Rooney II dropped a pretty strong hint last week about which one tops their list as far as trying to re-sign. Rooney cited outside linebacker Jason Worilds when asked during a conference call with season-ticket holders about the Steelers' top priorities regarding their own free agents.

Worilds came into his own in 2013 after underachieving through his first three seasons. He led the Steelers with eight sacks and dominated at times after settling in at left outside linebacker for the injured LaMarr Woodley. The 2010 second-round pick is in now in a position to cash in, and he has a lot of leverage with the Steelers given Woodley's uncertain future in Pittsburgh. ESPN's Mike Sando lists Worilds No. 22 on his list of “must-sign” free agents Insider and second among 3-4 outside linebackers.

Look for the Steelers to make every effort to re-sign Worilds before he hits the open market on March 11 and even consider using one of the tags that would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Reinforcements for a defense that slipped from first in 2012 to No. 13 in yards allowed will come more from the draft than free agency. The Steelers have already been linked with Notre Dame's Louis Nix II, the best nose tackle in the draft, and they could also strongly consider a safety at No. 15 overall, such as Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

That is not to say the Steelers won't use their first pick in May on an offensive tackle or a tall wide receiver such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Steelers

January, 15, 2014
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Space-eating defensive tackle Louis Nix III -- a potential heir to Casey Hampton -- has again been linked to the Steelers.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers taking Nix Insider with the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft even though they also have a number of other needs on defense.

Nix went to the Steelers in Kiper’s mock draft over players such as Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who would give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the big target he has long coveted.

Kiper joins ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay in sending Nix to the Steelers in his first mock draft.

Drafting a nose tackle for a defense that slipped dramatically against the run a year after the Steelers did not re-sign Hampton certainly won’t get any arguments from me.

But the draft is still more than three months away, and who knows how much Nix’s stock may rise or fall during the gauntlet that lies ahead for him and other top prospects?

Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert has often said that a prospect’s final grade is based mostly on what he put on tape in college. That is what may give the Steelers pause when it comes to Nix.

He did not consistently dominate at Notre Dame, and when trying to assess whether Nix can be the long-term successor to Hampton, I can’t help but recall what former Texas coach Mack Brown once told me about the latter.

Hampton, he said, was so disruptive as a defensive tackle that the Longhorns sometimes could not even scrimmage with him on the field. Did Nix come close to having that kind of impact at Notre Dame?

That is one of the questions the Steelers will try to answer as they scrutinize Nix.

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