Tennessee Titans: 2014 NFL draft

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some day-after draft thoughts on the Titans' newest quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, and newest running back, Bishop Sankey.

Mettenberger
Don’t overestimate Mettenberger at the start: The Titans clearly wanted to add a big, pocket passer to their stable of unproven quarterbacks. But sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger doesn’t roll into Nashville as a fix-it-now quarterback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized that the starting job remains Jake Locker’s. Mettenberger arrives with questions about a knee just four months removed from reconstructive ACL surgery as well as with reports of a back issue and a failed drug test at the combine.

If Locker is healthy, I expect he will start and veteran Charlie Whitehurst will be the game-day backup. The guy who would come off the bench for an injured Locker needs to have enough experience to play without having practiced, and that will be Whitehurst, not Mettenberger. If Locker is out for an extended time and Mettenberger has progressed, then it’s possible the Titans would install the rookie with a week to plan a game for him and get him ready for it.

Sankey can shine: Most Titans fans aren’t particularly well versed on the Pac-12, and geographically that’s understandable. They saw plenty of Tre Mason with Auburn and at least some of Carlos Hyde with Ohio State while they saw far less of Bishop Sankey in Washington. Mason was a great college back, but Auburn ran all kinds of misdirection stuff that got him into space, the sort of space it’s hard to create by scheme in the NFL. Hyde is a power guy, and the Titans view Shonn Greene as their power guy.

Tennessee wanted a well-rounded back who can do everything required of a three-down player. Sankey compares to Giovani Bernard of the Bengals, and he looked like a really good player in Cincinnati as a rookie. Greene and Dexter McCluster are going to get work for the Titans. But I’ll predict that out of the committee it’ll be Sankey who qualifies as the lead back and winds up with the most touches.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A wrap-up of the Tennessee Titans' draft. Click here for a full list of Titans draftees.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesRunning back Bishop Sankey figures to have a lead role in the Titans' backfield.
Best move: It’s a new day for the Titans' offensive backfield, and second-round pick Bishop Sankey will likely be the lead character in a committee of three. Shonn Greene will get some short-yardage work and Dexter McCluster will catch passes, and Tennessee might plan to feature them more on some Sundays. But Sankey is a versatile back who can run inside, run outside, break away, catch passes and pass protect. There were a lot of good backs in this draft, and the position has been devalued. But I've got no qualms with taking the first back off the board at No. 54, and if he pans out, it will rank as a perfectly fine value.

Riskiest move: Fourth-round defensive tackle DaQuan Jones might be of influence in the pass rush. But the Titans failed to add a young outside linebacker or defensive end who can contribute to the edge rush. The Titans are counting, then, on the new scheme, position changes for Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, and the addition of Shaun Phillips to produce far more outside pressure on quarterbacks than they got last season. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey accounted for 10.5 of the team’s 36 sacks last season. Edge pass-rusher could be the team’s top need come free agency and the draft in 2015, considering Morgan and Akeem Ayers aren’t under contract, and Wimbley and Phillips are over 30.

Most surprising move: We knew offensive tackle was a first-round possibility. Taylor Lewan received strong reviews as the No. 11 pick from two general managers of other teams. Plenty of fans are horrified that the Titans didn’t address something that ranked as a more immediate need. But the aging Michael Roos has slipped as a run blocker and is a year away from free agency, and this move ensures an easy transition no matter when it occurs. Lewan joins the team facing three misdemeanor charges resulting from a campus fight and was alleged to have threatened to rape a classmate. He passed all the Titans' checks, however, and the odds are high they have hit on a quality player at a key position.

File it away: The addition of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round seems like a low-risk, high-reward move. His arrival doesn’t open the starting quarterback job for competition, and something unexpected would have to happen for Jake Locker to lose his spot as the starting quarterback, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. Mettenberger is the big, strong-armed pocket-passer in Whisenhunt’s preferred style. The influence of former NFL coach Cam Cameron as LSU’s offensive coordinator was significant in Mettenberger’s final season. Can he position himself as an alternative to Locker if Locker fails or gets hurt again? Can he be in line to be the team’s quarterback in 2015 if Locker’s chance comes to an end? Those are the biggest questions awaiting him in his rookie season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In a conference call just after he was drafted in the sixth round Saturday by the Tennessee Titans, quarterback Zach Mettenberger said if rookie camp started in 20 minutes he'd be ready.

While he fared well in pre-draft workouts, he's still just over four months removed from ACL reconstruction surgery.

He's feeling good and is confident he can get into the mix immediately. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Mettenberger looks close but will need to be assessed by the Titans' medical staff when he arrives Monday in Nashville.

ESPN.com's resident physical therapist Stephania Bell said the player could well be advised by the team to slow things down.

"Given that surgery was in January, Mettenberger's knee is still healing," she said. "While he certainly performed well at pro day and may feel like he's 100 percent, it's important to remember there is still biological healing of that new ligament taking place inside the knee. For the long-term health of his knee, it's in his best interest to follow the rehab progression the Titans set forth from here."

The Titans have rookie minicamp Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If Mettenberger passes a physical after he gets here, there won't be a chance to put him on the physically unable to perform list if he's not ready for the more rigorous training camp that starts in late July.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A new quarterback to go with Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and Tyler Wilson for the Tennessee Titans didn’t arrive until the 178th pick in the draft.

LSU signal-caller Zach Mettenberger looks to be a value in the sixth round. Tennessee dealt picks 186 and 228 in the seventh round to Washington for the pick with which they grabbed Mettenberger, the draft’s 10th quarterback.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt quickly said Locker still rates as the Titans' guy and only unexpected circumstances would change the team's starting quarterback.

Mettenberger
Mettenberger fits what is regarded as the Whisenhunt mold: He's a big, strong-armed pocket guy. But he’s not super accurate and he’s not mobile.

He also has an off-field history, pleading guilty in 2010 to two counts of sexual battery for grabbing a woman's private parts at a bar. Per ESPN's scouting report, “He agreed to, and completed, a strict and detailed 24-month probation as part of his punishment.”

That ended his career at Georgia and he moved on to LSU.

Now he’s coming off a torn ACL and provided a diluted urine sample for a scouting combine drug test, which is typically regarded as a failed test.

Former NFL head coach and coordinator Cam Cameron was his offensive coordinator at LSU last season, and Mettenberger made solid strides in his game.

While late-round quarterbacks very rarely pan out, at this point in the draft, Mettenberger is definitely worth a shot.

Locker is no sure thing, and Charlie Whitehurst is very much a backup. If Locker holds him off, Mettenberger can still position himself to have a chance to start in 2015.

And even if Locker is clearly the starter at the start of the season -- as I expect he will be -- he has a big injury history and odds are the Titans will need to play a second quarterback at some point.
videoNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans made just two picks in the first two days of the NFL draft.

Tackle Taylor Lewan and running back Bishop Sankey should help fortify the offense.

But the Titans won't add a defender until at least the fourth round, when the Titans hold picks 112 and 122. They also have 151 in the fifth, 186 in the sixth and 228 in the seventh.

The Titans have reasonably good numbers on the defensive line and at linebacker. But young talent suited for the new 3-4 is hardly in abundance and is something I expect them to address.

The Titans can use cornerback depth and a young safety to be groomed for a spot where their top three are aging.

They need a fourth receiver who can graduate to a top three spot in a year and could take a tight end to compete with Taylor Thompson for the No. 3 spot behind Delanie Walker and Craig Stevens.

Quarterbacks in the second half of the draft rarely pan out, but Zach Mettenberger or Aaron Murray could be intriguing and have more value than the average late quarterback because they may go later than they would if they weren't coming off ACL reconstructions.

They are likely to wait to find competition for Maikon Bonani at placekicker until after the draft is over.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson had one primary characteristic.

Super speed.

He used it to run for more than 2,000 yards in 2009. He used it to get more 1,000 yards in six straight seasons. He used it to race a cheetah.

He's still very fast, but his home run hitting dropped off dramatically, his price was too high and the Titans parted ways with him.

Second-round pick Bishop Sankey should be the lead member of the committee that replaces Johnson. At pick No. 54, Sankey was the first running back drafted, and the Titans started a mini-run at the position. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati with the next pick and Carlos Hyde went to San Francisco with the 57th pick.

The buzzword for Sankey and the entire Titans backfield is now versatility.

Sankey's work won't hinge on one thing. The Titans see a runner who can go inside or out, has good vision and understanding of where he should go. He can catch and pass protect.

"I'm a guy that likes to use his eyes when I'm running," he said. "I feel like I'm patient enough to press the line of scrimmage and make the correct read and cut. I think that does work to my advantage as far as being a running back and running down the field and making guys miss in that second level."

While they can lean on Shonn Greene for short-yardage and pure power situations and turn to Dexter McCluster as a jitterbug pass catcher, they expect to lean on Sankey as a three-down back when they want to.

"Really, what he brings to us is a great deal of versatility: vision, feet, ability to catch the football," general manager Ruston Webster said. "The important thing for us in picking one of these backs was to get the right fit for the coaches' offense. Versatility and the ability to play on three downs was really one of the main criteria."

Said Titans West scout Marv Sunderland: "He has a great style. He is more than just kind of a speed guy. He can run inside and can run outside. He can get outside, he can run through guys, and he can break the long runs. He has great hands out of the backfield, and he is a good blocker."

Sankey said he's been compared to Giovani Bernard and LeSean McCoy. Bernard is just getting started with the Bengals but had a fine rookie year. McCoy is one of the league's best -- and most versatile -- backs.

Sunderland sees another fine NFL runner in Sankey.

"The guy that he most reminds me of is a guy from when I was with the Giants, we had Tiki Barber," he said. "He runs a lot like Tiki. Tiki put the ball on the ground, this kid doesn't."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The pick: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

My take: An instinctive and quick back, Sankey should fit in nicely with Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster in the Titans' backfield and could easily wind up with the highest number of carries in his rookie season. The Titans view him as a versatile three-down back who can run inside and out, catch passes and be reliable in pass protection. He said he has been compared to Giovani Bernard, LeSean McCoy and even Emmitt Smith. Titans area scout Marv Sunderland said Sankey runs like Tiki Barber did, without the fumbling issue. That's a heck of a group to be compared to. The Titans triggered a run on running backs by tabbing the first one in the draft with the 54th overall pick.

Unfortunate: Sankey will be at the team's upcoming rookie minicamp. But after that, because the school year won't be over for the University of Washington, he can't be with the team for its 10 organized team activity days. Ken Whisenhunt is confident the smart Sankey will do well to keep up with things via his iPad playbook that will get updated with current practice video.

What's next: The Titans will sit out the third round. They gave their pick to San Francisco last year when they moved up for Justin Hunter. They aren't slated to pick again until No. 112 in the fourth round Saturday, but the trade back in the second round with Philadelphia means they also have the 122nd pick.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans have had a couple quality mauling offensive tackles during their time in Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesThe Titans' Mike Martin said he's confident that Taylor Lewan, his former teammate at Michigan, won't present the team with any off-field issues.
Jon Runyan and David Stewart were right tackles who didn’t have the feet and movement skills that make new first-round pick Taylor Lewan a left tackle.

The nasty streak in Lewan is akin to what Runyan and Stewart brought. And it’s something the Titans may need to monitor.

While it makes Lewan a quality offensive lineman, it may have also contributed to him allegedly threatening to rape a classmate at Michigan and face three misdemeanor charges stemming from a campus fight.

“You have to have a certain mentality on the field if you’re going to be that physical guy because people are going to challenge you,” said Runyan, now a United States Representative from New Jersey’s 3rd district.

Runyan knows Lewan as the two both played for the Wolverines. The second-term Congressman spoke to The Midday 180 in Nashville on Thursday.

“You’ve got to basically do your stuff, you’ve got to take your shots in there at them, and push them around a little bit and truly just be a jerk on the field. But you can’t live in society like that because you’ll wind up being locked up. So you’ve got to be able to have the ability to turn it on and off and I really think the really good players, the people who are going to ply, a lot of the time have that ability and I think Taylor has it.”

Lewan agreed with Runyon’s idea.

“There is no doubt about it, there is a way you need to act on the field and there is a way to act off the field,” he said. “There is a time and a place for everything. Personally, as far as my personality goes, it’s really easy to judge me as one of those guys based on how I play football, because that’s how most of the public sees me. As just a football player. But off the field, I’m not the guy I’m perceived to be.”

As a player, Lewan said he felt he had to walk a line at time where he made it clear he would protect his quarterback. He admits to overstepping it at times during his college career.

“Yeah, I’m going to do some things here and there,” Lewan said. “Obviously you never want to put the team in a position to lose or hurt us in any way but if I have to be that guy that steps in when a quarterback is getting hit and maybe tossed around a little more than he should, then I am definitely willing to be that guy.”

One of Lewan’s new teammates is an old Michigan teammate. Defensive lineman Mike Martin was drafted by the Titans out of Michigan in the third round in 2012.

“He’s a Grade A guy and you don’t have to worry about anything with him off the field, I can say that for sure,” Martin said. “I saw him grow and I know for sure firsthand.”

I also spoke to two NFL GMs about the Titans' selection of Lewan.

One said the he liked the tackle and the red flags were "not major."

Said the other: "That guy has so much value at that spot it was a no-brainer"
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans have spent two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick on offensive linemen in the last two years.

They are unlikely to spend a premium pick on an offensive lineman again for sometime.

Incumbent left tackle Michael Roos, one of the team's best players for his nine-year career, is heading into the final year of his deal.

But here's what the Titans have in terms of contractual control of linemen going forward:
LT Taylor Lewan through 2018
LG Andy Levitre through 2018
C Brian Schwenke through 2016
RG Chance Warmack through 2017
RT Michael Oher through 2017

They need the quarterback who benefits from the security they should provide. They need another running back who can get the yards they block for.

I thought heading into last year the Titans were poised to have one of the best lines in the league and it simply didn't pan out that way.

If new offensive line coach Bob Bostad can develop guys like he did when he coached at Wisconsin, if Ken Whisenhunt can scheme to make the group maximize its talent and if they all play close to expectations, the Titans should do better at reaching such expectations.

Whisenhunt wants it to be a tone-setting group.

"I expected that before (Thursday night's) draft," he said. "We talked about that as a group the other day. That is an important piece of your offense, the mentality of that group. I certainly think that Taylor fits that mentality."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In an old-school way, the Titans continued to concentrate on foundation building with their first-round pick of left tackle Taylor Lewan.

Whisenhunt
They did something else old school leading up to the start of the draft: They declined to participate in the sort of gamesmanship and outright lying some of their colleagues participate in.

I don’t believe there was nearly as much of that going on around the NFL as some would have us believe.

But certainly some teams engage in it, and with two extra weeks there was probably more than usual.

The smokescreens the Titans are party too are the sort where a quarterback throws right out of the snap to a receiver on the line of scrimmage, not the sort intended to somehow manipulate the draft.

Did GM Ruston Webster or coach Ken Whisenhunt or the guys on their respective staffs share much leading into this thing?

They did not.

But while they didn’t, they didn’t lie or attempt to manipulate or mislead, either. At least not from my vantage point.

“I think in the end the biggest thing you want to do is get the players right and make the best decisions for your team,” Webster said. “We may not tell you everything, but I try not to straight up lie to you, too.”

Said Whisenhunt: “I think more maybe not saying something about a position or a player, but not ever trying to create a situation where you get the benefit [with] a player by just telling you something false."

Tuesday, Webster visited with my Nashville radio show and said he needed to understand as he drafted “where you might be light in a year.”

“And there are certain positions where there is no guarantee you can get that guy every year," he said.

“Let me interpret that for everyone,” I chimed in. “That’s an offensive tackle statement.”

“You said that,” he replied with a laugh.

Look what an actual piece of ultimately telling banter cost him.

Nothing.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In his pre-draft visit with the Titans in Nashville, Taylor Lewan answered for an incident that has him facing a trio of misdemeanor charges. He also addressed a claim that he said something incredibly dumb in relation to a rape accusation against a teammate.

Here is a recent New York Post story detailing things.

“We addressed those with Taylor,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “We addressed them prior. Obviously, we talked about it even today just to make sure. I feel pretty comfortable with where he is. Taylor is a tough guy. I feel pretty comfortable that we’re going to get a solid guy here.”

In a conference call with Nashville media, Lewan was asked about the status of the legal case.

“My off-the-field incident is three assault charges pending right now,” he said. “I kind of gave them the brief story that I was completely breaking things up. I did push guys to get everything out of the way. I never struck a man closed fist or anything of that nature. The thing is, I explained to them everything and told them the truth. That’s what it was.

“I’m happy that they believed me. I’m happy that they believed in my character, the kind of person I am. My job is to not do reckless things off the field. My job is to make sure my quarterback is safe and my running backs are in good positions to gain yards.”
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A flashy Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback with a catchy nickname sat drinking a cup of water when the Tennessee Titans went on the clock for the 11th pick in the NFL draft.

The Titans were polite when they talked of passing on Johnny Manziel, but they didn't hesitate to grab Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, even as Michael Roos and Michael Oher are already on their roster.

The flash will have to come another time.

Lewan
General manager Ruston Webster recalled how he was part of the Seahawks front office that mistakenly presumed it would be able to replace eventual Hall of Famer Walter Jones. Webster didn't want to be party to that again, felt there were three great left tackles in this draft and happily selected the third one.

The Titans get a nasty player who will be a tone-setter as longtime right tackle David Stewart had been.

“My job is to make sure my quarterback is safe and my running back is in position to gain yards,” Lewan told Nashville media in a conference call.

The Titans will have a crowd at the tackle position -- for a year.

Incumbent left tackle Roos turns 32 in October and is entering the final year of his deal. Free-agent acquisition Oher got $20 million for four years but could be cut loose after one year and an investment of just $6 million.

So, does Lewan bring immediate impact? He can, but he might not. Will he deliver long-term stability? The Titans sure think so.

The other options at 11 might not have been as good.

The Titans were probably not going to draft a first-round quarterback no matter what. Two guys I believe they liked, outside linebacker Anthony Barr and tight end Eric Ebron, disappeared the two picks before.

So they went offensive line again a year after Alabama guard Chance Warmack was the 10th pick overall.

How did Lewan earn his reputation?

“By playing nasty, by playing through the whistle and trying to put guys in the dirt every single time,” he said. “Whether it's [Jadeveon] Clowney or some slappy on third team off some random team, I don't care who I am going against, I am going to play at the level that I need to play at no matter what. That's just the kind of person I am.”
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The pick: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

My take: It’s not sexy by any means. And Lewan might not even be a starter in 2014, though he will have a shot to beat out Michael Oher at right tackle. In 2015, Michael Roos could move on as a free agent and Lewan could take over, probably seamlessly after a year of seasoning. Foundation-building is important for new regimes. General manager Ruston Webster started it last year in the draft by taking guard Chance Warmack in the first round and center Brian Schwenke in the fourth.

Near misses: The Titans could have liked outside linebacker Anthony Barr and tight end Eric Ebron, but they were selected by Minnesota and Detroit, respectively, with the two picks right before Tennessee went on the clock. The Titans had some conviction on Lewan, as Adam Schefter said the team passed on an offer from Cleveland to trade down.

What’s next: The Titans pick 42nd in the second round. They don't have a third-rounder.
Blow up the majority mock.

The Tennessee Titans are not getting UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr with the No. 11 pick in the draft. He just went to Minnesota at No. 9.

The Titans are shifting to a 3-4 front and their pass rush was nothing special a year ago, with interior lineman Jurrell Casey producing the most push and a team-high 10.5 sacks. The edge rush needed upgrading.

With Kamerion Wimbley back at linebacker and Shaun Phillips added, they should be better. Akeem Ayers and Derrick Morgan, moving from end, are also at outside linebacker.

That’s a potentially nice four pack.

But Ayers and Morgan are in contract years while Wimbley will be 31 in October and Phillips will be 33 on Tuesday.
Derek CarrEthan Miller/Getty ImagesDrafting a QB like Derek Carr in the first round would have far-reaching implications for the Titans.
There are several reasons for the Tennessee Titans not to draft a quarterback at No. 11 or even after a trade down in the first round:

  • The top guys don’t look to be sure things, and the Titans are only three years removed from over-drafting Jake Locker eighth overall.
  • The Titans, and GM Ruston Webster in particular, feel Locker is deserving of one big final shot at proving he can be a quality NFL starter and want to facilitate that chance. A highly drafted quarterback wouldn’t help in that.
  • A first-round quarterback would be expected to start, if not from the beginning, somewhere along the way during the season. A team shouldn’t avoid a pick because of the questions it will bring. But if Tennessee drafts a quarterback first, the major theme from the outside all season will be about which quarterback plays.
  • As those top quarterback prospects come with question marks and/or holes, taking one would mean passing on a better player at another position.
  • Though every team and situation is different, the AFC South rival Jaguars had a new regime in place last season. GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley sort of received a redshirt year in their first season, because in a lot of ways the clock doesn’t start ticking on guys in those posts until they choose their quarterback.
The Titans have provided no indication that they will spend their top pick on a quarterback, but they have offered no real indication of anything. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean allows for the possibility of a trade down and the choice of Derek Carr. Subsequently, I’ve also heard that Webster is a giant fan of Carr.

“He’s a very bright quarterback,” Webster said Tuesday. “He’s played in multiple systems. He’s had to learn systems and learn them quickly, got a good arm, got a quick release and is pretty good at throwing the ball on time and is pretty accurate.”

While the Titans are loyal and patient and committed with regard to Locker, they also aren’t operating with blinders on.

They know he remains a question mark, they know he tends to get hurt, they must know Charlie Whitehurst isn’t equipped to carry the team to success if asked to start for a long stretch.

Setting Carr aside, we don’t know how they feel about Teddy Bridgewater, who could be there at No. 11. We also don’t know how they rate Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, and they could have a crack at one or more of those guys.

When Webster fielded a question about Bortles on Tuesday, he brightened up in a way that I read to mean, I can speak freely about this guy because he’s someone who is not in our range.

“You know what I like about Bortles, is he’s big, he’s got a strong arm and he’s consistently brought his team from behind,” Webster said. “Last year, I think in multiple games, the Louisville game being one, they were down and he brought his team back. That’s something that we always look for, and sometimes you don’t get that with a quarterback if their team is so good they’re usually ahead so they don’t have to do it, but in his case, that’s been something that he’s done really well.”

The Titans have looked closely at Carr, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray, and also have reportedly worked out Jimmy Garoppolo. They might have seen others and been able to keep it quiet.

If they draft a first-round quarterback, I’ll expect him to start, quickly, and mark the end of Locker's tenure as the guy.

It’s one thing to draft a kid and have him sit for a while behind a veteran -- the Titans had success with that when Locker sat behind Matt Hasselbeck.

Whitehurst doesn’t provide the same veteran quality. Young quarterbacks get plugged in and play all around the league now.

I still think the Titans wait and draft a quarterback. Ideally he would arrive before the end of the third round, and ideally the Titans would make a deal that would get them more than the two picks they currently have in that span.

Quarterbacks drafted later than that who pan out in a big way are exceedingly rare. Maybe Mettenberger or Murray slides some as they are coming off ACL injuries.

A first-round quarterback will surprise me, and many others who follow the team closely.

Should it?

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