Mac Attack

Posted: July 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 15 Comments »

Jeremy Maclin is a complex subject. He was drafted in the 1st round in 2009 and has been a starter in each season. Maclin has 26 TD catches in 59 career games. DeSean Jackson, who is clearly more explosive, has 32 TD catches in 87 games. Maclin is a good person off the field. Heck, everyone I’ve talked to raves about him as a person.

But…

Maclin has some issues that make him a tough player to support at times. Allen Rodriguez wrote a piece for BGN on Maclin and why he struggles to cheer for Maclin, despite the fact he’s an Eagle. I don’t agree with every point that Allen makes in his post, but he does present his case well. There is a mixture of fact and opinion.

My biggest beef with Maclin is the lack of toughness he showed in 2012. If you watch Maclin from 2009-2011, he was a more physical, more aggressive player. Don’t get me wrong. You wouldn’t mistake him for Irving Fryar due to his blocking or how he worked the middle of the field, but the player we saw in 2012 was highly disappointing. The Eagles were in the midst of a nightmare season. That’s when you need your best players to man-up and play with great heart. Brent Celek had a problem with drops in 2012, but there was never a question of effort. He dragged defenders down the field just like he would in a season where games mattered and everything was on the line.

Maclin’s run blocking was atrocious. He failed to give adequate effort at times. There were times when he avoided contact when running with the ball after the catch. Maclin did have his good moments as well. He caught the winning TD vs the Bucs. He played very well in the rematch with the Skins and almost led the Eagles to an upset win.

The great unknown here is what effect Chip Kelly will have.

Kelly pushes his players. Good enough isn’t good enough. After the Lions game, Kelly had this to say.

“There were plays that LeSean made… LeSean made one big run. He could have had a 70‑yard run,” Kelly said. “He cut back to it and got tackled by Suh and the defensive linemen. If he had broken to his left, he might have had another one. Those are things we’re continuing to work on.”

Shady runs for 217 yards and Kelly is focused on the one long run that should have been even longer and a TD. That’s the kind of tough coaching that can push players to the next level.

DeSean Jackson had his best season in 2013. So did Shady. And Riley Cooper. And Nick Foles. Some of that had to do with opportunities, but don’t ignore how Kelly’s prodding helped the players.

Maclin has the tools to be a very good WR. He needs to be pushed. Maclin needs someone to get on him for his blocking. There is no excuse for a player his size not to be at least an adequate blocker. Maclin needs someone to get on him when it comes to running after the catch. Too often he heads for the sidelines or goes down voluntarily over the middle. Unacceptable. Don’t help the defense. Make them tackle you.

Coaching can make a difference. DeSean Jackson was more aggressive about going over the middle under Kelly. Maclin needs to do the exact same thing. The middle of the field is where most of the big plays are. Go outside and defenders can use the sideline to box you in. The great players work the middle of the field. They hope to outrun some tacklers, make some miss and break the occasional arm tackle.

The Eagles tried to sign Maclin to a long term deal this past offseason. They must think he showed enough last spring and summer that they’re confident he will play well in the new offense. I’m excited to see how productive he can be.

There is also the Nick Foles factor. Foles and Maclin played together for 6 starts in 2012. Maclin had a good 3-game stretch late in the year.

at Tampa … 9-104-1
vs Cincy … 4-73
vs Wash … 8-116-1

Those are good numbers for a veteran receiver working with a rookie QB. DeSean was hurt and missed those games. Defenses were able to do whatever they wanted to Maclin in terms of coverage, but he posted good numbers. The offense moved the ball and scored points (well, good yards/points for that team…not 2013 good).

Maclin is more receiver than athletic playmaker. He runs excellent routes. Give him an accurate QB that can anticipate plays and Maclin will be more effective than when improvising and trying for home runs. I remember watching the 2012 season opener. Maclin caught a TD pass in the game. I watched that over and over, and became increasingly frustrated. Maclin was wide open for the TD, but Vick took forever to find him and Mac almost ran out of the back of the end zone before the ball got there.

There are reasons to be excited about Maclin as we head into the new year, but let’s also be honest. He must be a more physical, aggressive player if he’s going to stay on the field for Chip Kelly. You either block or you sit. And Kelly will be all over Maclin the first time he avoids an open middle to run toward a crowded sideline.

Maclin has a great opportunity. This is the first time in his NFL career he’ll go into the season as “the guy”. All players have egos. I’m sure Mac would love to shine in his chance to be the primary receiver for a high-powered offense. Mac also is on a 1-year contract. A big season means a big deal, whether with the Eagles or some other team.

2014 will be the most important season of Jeremy Maclin’s career. He can play his ass off and make a lot of money or get ready to deal with more fans writing about what a frustrating player he is.

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Interesting video of Mac from 2011-12.

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Darren Sproles

Posted: July 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 39 Comments »

The most interesting addition the Eagles made this offseason was trading for Darren Sproles. When news broke that he was available, I wrote that I didn’t think the Eagles would be interested. They were. Then I figured he would come here more as a slot receiver than RB. The Eagles coaches went out of their way this spring to emphasize that Sproles was here as a RB.

So apparently I don’t know very much.

I do know that Sproles is a declining player, but remains talented and can be a dangerous offensive weapon. Here are some 2013 highlights. The music is NSFW so turn that volume down.

You can see that Sproles is a good space player. Get him in space and 1-on-1 and he is still very dangerous. He has exceptionally quick feet and is able to create separation with one move. Sproles lacks the speed that he once had so he’s not so much a home run threat anymore, but he can still deliver chunks of yards in the right situations.

I do think the Eagles want to use Sproles as a receiver to take advantage of his ability in that area, but I’m fascinated by him as a runner. Back in 2011, Sproles was 87-603 for the Saints. That is 6.9 yards per carry. His career number is 5.1 ypc. Sproles has never been a volume runner. His career high for carries in a season is 93. Shady McCoy gets that in a month.

Sproles is an effective runner when he does get the ball. He is very good with making one cut and then turning upfield. He has great body control and that allows him to move around blockers and away from defenders. He shows good vision and he’s got great feet. Sproles isn’t a power runner, but has a thick enough build to not go down on first contact. He doesn’t have the long speed to deliver big plays, but back in 2011 he had 7 runs of 20 or more yards.

Can the Eagles get a 2011 performance out of him?

The last 2 years Sproles totaled 101 carries and he had 3 runs of 20 or more yards. Did the Saints use him less because he wasn’t as effective or was he less effective because the Saints didn’t use him enough? You would have to really study 2 years worth of Saints games to have a strong feel for that question.

Chip Kelly does have a good track record with smaller RBs. LaMichael James was a great player at Oregon despite being just 5-8, 194. Sproles lists at 5-6, 190. He isn’t tall, but he does have a thick build.

The Saints are more of a power running team. They like to attack downhill with big blockers and strong runners. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram are both 215 pound runners. Khiry Robinson is 220. Kelly loves to run the ball, but doesn’t need power guys for his attack. He likes to spread teams out and attack more creatively. Sproles can be a good RB in this system. He did a good job for the Saints, but just didn’t fit what they wanted anymore.

Chip Kelly seems excited by the presence of Sproles. And we can’t ignore how Kelly and the coaches went on and on about the fact Sproles is here to be a RB. I don’t think he’s suddenly going to get 20 carries a game, but they must feel he can be a good change-of-pace runner behind McCoy.

I do think Sproles is expected to be a big help in the return game. He has been a successful PR and KOR in his career. Sproles can  help with both units. He won’t break 80-yard TDs anymore, but he can help with some medium returns. You also trust him back there in terms of decision-making and handling the ball. Maybe Sproles can help some young returners on the Eagles who haven’t developed into consistent performers so far in their careers. I’m sure Brian Westbrook benefited from the year he spent with Brian Mitchell back in 2002.

There certainly is a lot of optimism in regard to Sproles. Almost everyone in the media came away impressed after watching him in the OTAs and minicamp. Eagles coaches think very highly of him, even the defensive guys.

Sproles has averaged fewer than four rushing attempts per game in three of the last four seasons, yet Eagles coaches have emphasized this spring that they’re counting on him to be a ball-carrier, not just a pass-catcher.

“One, you can’t see him,” said inside linebackers coach Rick Minter when asked about the challenge of preparing for Sproles. “Seriously. I mean you can’t see the guy. He’s diminutive in size. Darren is short, but not small. There’s a big difference. He’s a short, statured man, but he’s thick and strong and violent and all those other things. As we’re noticing, they’re running Chip’s plays now. And I think this offense is gonna be a really good fit for Darren to get a second life and get some things going here just as a runner, let alone as a friggin’ receiver. That’s what he’s known for to be the hard matchup.

“But even as a runner, you start running those plays Chip’s running and you start looking back there behind that 300-pound offensive line, you don’t even see the guy. And all of a sudden, it’s boom, squirt out the back door and he’s got the ball. So I think his running skills are still there to run this style, and then the receiving skills are unbelievable, they’re off the charts. At the running back position, his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield or line up wherever they want to line him up is very challenging for us as a linebacker corps trying to stop him.”

Despite Sproles’ age and the fact that he averaged just 4.2 YPC last season, the Eagles jumped at the opportunity to acquire him. While the games are still more than two months away, they like what they’ve seen so far.

“First thing that sticks out is just how well he trains,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the guys that you point out to the younger guys on film as that is what it’s supposed to look like. That’s the effort, and that’s what we’re looking for on a daily basis from him. Very, very intelligent football player. He’s got a great knowledge of the game, and I think he’s really shared that with Duce [Staley] and myself kind of how he sees things and has helped out some of the younger running backs at that position.”

I don’t want to get this hype train out of control. Sproles is here to be a role player on an offense that already has very good weapons. But I am excited to see how Kelly uses him and if Sproles can have more impact than I initially anticipated.

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Eagles Notebook

Posted: July 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 23 Comments »

Let’s start with the bad news. Eagles Safety Keelan Johnson was arrested over the weekend. File this under the category of “drunk people do dumb things”.

Court documents said Keelan Johnson was standing in front of Zuma Grill just after 2 a.m. after an acquaintance was involved in a bar fight. Johnson was allegedly shouting over officers, who were detaining the acquaintance.

Johnson was told to step back multiple times and was given a “directional contact” to the chest. Johnson then allegedly shoved an officer. A brief scuffle followed, in which Johnson refused to lower his arms for arrest.

Johnson waived his Miranda rights and informed police he shoved the officer because he felt the officer didn’t have a right to order him around and physically attempt to move him.

Johnson appeared to be intoxicated at the time. He was charged with assaulting a police officer, passively resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

If a cop tells you to do something…do it. Dumb move by a player who was fighting for a roster spot. The team may not cut him right now, but they won’t put up with much from the guys at the bottom of the roster.

* * * * *

Many of you keep asking what is going on. I don’t know anything for sure, but my guess is that Johnson will be suspended. I don’t have an explanation for the delay, but it sure seems like Johnson and the Eagles would be objecting publicly if there was some hope with this situation.

* * * * *

DE/LB Phillip Hunt tore his ACL last summer.

Hunt is a good fit for the 4-3. Hopefully he catches on somewhere and then gets a chance to play some. Good luck to him.

* * * * *

Those plays will add up. They’ll be more chances for the players to work on the things they are trying to improve. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will get better, but you certainly hope the reps help.

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Chip, Chip, Chip

Posted: July 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 74 Comments »

I have written about the Eagles in one form or another since 2003. That is 10 seasons of Andy Reid and one of Chip Kelly. Oddly, it feels like I have written as many stories about Kelly as I ever did about Reid. Big Red was a terrific coach, but Chip is something completely different. Is visionary too strong a word?

Kelly has impacted the game of football at the high school, college and pro levels. I’m not saying he belongs in the same breath as Paul Brown, Bill Walsh or Clark Shaughnessy. They became legends because their ideas have stood the test of time. We’re still living in the moment with Kelly and his impact on the game.

One of the things that makes Kelly unique is that he’s not just X’s and O’s. He is a big picture guy. Kelly goes beyond scheme and talent. You can win titles at USC and Texas by recruiting great players and then keeping them organized and motivated. That might be oversimplifying things a bit, but the point is that talent is the key at schools like that. Bill Snyder built Kansas State into a power by getting some talented players to come there, but also by getting other players to overachieve. Kelly did a similar thing at Oregon. He had good talent to work with, but far more 3-star recruits than 5-star recruits. Kelly coached up his players so that they could compete with and beat teams that were loaded with the 5-star players.

A slew of articles came out on Sunday about Kelly and some of his ideas about how to coach players and develop a team. First up, Jeff McLane.

As much as Chip Kelly requires his players to run on the practice fields behind the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles coach demands they keep off the front lawn.

The grass that greets visitors to the team’s practice facility – finely manicured every Monday – is lined with walkways. But the shortest path between the Eagles’ indoor bubble and the nearest entrance to the locker room is not.

When Andy Reid was coach, the players simply went from A to B, trudging atop the lawn in the interest of time. Kelly may do nearly everything at supersonic speed, but he doesn’t believe in cutting corners.

So when the leftovers from the Reid regime did what they had always done – and, frankly, some of the new players took the shortcut as well – Kelly would bark his order to stay off the grass.

It took some repeating in his first year, but now the Eagles march in order along the pathways. Kelly’s rule might be the most minor of changes he made in Year 1, but sometimes the smallest detail can paint the entire picture.

“It goes back to, he cares about the whole thing,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I love it because [you should] show respect, walk on the sidewalks. Don’t walk all over the grass.

“You would never think a head football coach wastes his time spending that moment to discipline. But he does.”

Kelly’s schemes may have received the bulk of credit for the Eagles’ turnaround in 2013, but greater attention should be focused on an ongoing culture shift that starts with – simplistic as it sounds – finding good people who do the right things.

I’m sure more than a few people will find this completely ridiculous. Who cares if players walk on the sidewalk or the grass? Kelly does. Walking on grass isn’t going to win/lose games, but finding players who will buy in to the coach’s ideas absolutely makes a difference. Get enough players to do the right thing and to pay attention to simple details and you can build the right kind of team.

Kelly’s keep-off-the-grass rule dates back to Oregon. The “why,” according to Eagles rookie and former Ducks receiver Josh Huff, is “don’t take any shortcuts in life, and always do the right thing even though the wrong thing might get you to the door quicker.”

“What you try to get across to guys is you have to think about things,” said Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who also worked with Kelly at Oregon. “Maybe you’re not going to think about it as deeply and say somebody mowed that lawn, somebody spent hours preparing that thing, but I think as you’re around really good people, good people don’t do that.

“They clean up after themselves. They just try to do the right thing as much as they can. And no one needs to be looking. You just try to do the right thing.”

There is a great scene in “The Paper” where Marisa Tomei confronts Michael Keaton about what kind of a husband/father he is. She asks him if he would run into a burning building for his family. He answers that of course he would. She then points out that life doesn’t present tests like that. You prove what kind of a person you are by all the little tests you face. Like not walking on the grass.

The players seem to get this.

“He is a demanding coach,” center Jason Kelce said. “He’s likable from the player’s perspective, but at the same time, you know what’s expected of you. If you don’t do what’s expected of you, then you’re going to be on your way out. He’s made it very clear that he’s not going to tolerate certain things.”

And

Uniforms should be worn uniformly to reflect a team-as-one mentality. So when a player wears black socks rather than the white ones the rest of the team wears, it suggests to Kelly that player wishes to stand apart.

“I just think it has to do with the entire culture,” Kelce said. “Everyone is expected to buy in and follow the team’s culture and expectations. I really don’t think he cares at all about what color socks guys are wearing. He probably just wants us to be in uniform and look like a team.”

Be a team. Be 53 players working in the same direction, with the same goal.

“The more people get along and share the same vision and aspirations, the more you’re going to get to where you want to get to,” Kelly said. “If you have people who have different agendas in terms of what they’re trying to get accomplished, that’s not going to help the cause.”

Great piece by McLane. Go read the whole thing.

* * * * *

Sheil Kapadia also wrote about Kelly and some of his ideas.

With Year 2 on the horizon, Kelly met with a roomful of reporters at the end of June’s’ minicamp and expanded on many of his philosophies. One topic that came up was his presence, which is felt throughout the NovaCare Complex. While some coaches believe in allowing the locker room to be a players-only sanctuary, Kelly prefers a different approach.

“I’ve never agreed with that,” he said. “We’re all Philadelphia Eagles, so there’s no place that’s [sacred or] not sacred or you’re not allowed to go. And I think sometimes in certain times, that’s where problems occur in the locker room, because coaches aren’t in the locker room enough. I think you shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘Well the coaches are here, we have to act any differently in the locker room.’ They should be able to behave the way we were all taught to behave: to be a good person, to be a good teammate, to be a good neighbor. That’s just part of the deal. Just like if I had my way – there’s obviously I think fire codes to it – there should be no doors on anything because you shouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on behind closed doors if you’re doing things the right way.”

Asked about whether he’s made any changes in the aftermath of the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation in Miami, Kelly added: “No. We did that before. We were always in the locker room as coaches since I got here. As I said earlier, I don’’t believe you need to have any doors on anything. We eliminated the door in the back room [from the locker room to the lounge]. There should be no closed doors in terms of how you do it. We’’re just continuing to emphasize what we emphasized a year ago. We don’’t have any rookie shows, never have done that stuff. We just try to be a good person. That’’s what we’re trying to get, a bunch of guys who are good people.”

A lot of teams break down into cliques. The defense hangs out together. The offense too. Within those groups, positions become a sub-group. Sometimes this leads to good-natured fun. Maybe the OL pick on the WRs for dropping passes. But this kind of fragmenting can be problematic when things go bad. Suddenly the blame game begins and the laughing stops. Buddy Ryan loved his defensive players and treated them better than their offensive counterparts. As much as I love Buddy, that was just plain dumb. You don’t build a team like that.

Kelly rearranged the locker room upon arrival in Philly. He didn’t want a bunch of cliques. He wanted players to mix with other positions and groups. Kelly wanted a team. This also extended to rookies. Kelly didn’t want any hazing. He mentioned in the quote not even doing rookie shows. This is when rookies get up and perform skits or entertaining acts for the whole team. They often make fun of veteran players and coaches. It may seem harmless, but still makes the rookies feel very different.

Kelly wants one group.

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Ed Kracz wrote about Kelly and the military.

Kelly isn’t just drawing ideas from the sports world far and wide, but from the military, too. Particularly the Navy SEALS.

He mentioned that one of his three brothers served in the military, about visiting troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain on a sort of USO type of trip.

“I had a chance to sit with a guy in the military when I was coming back from a recruiting trip (while at Oregon), and he was actually going to see a young man who had lost his life in Afghanistan,” Kelly said. “He was going to the funeral that I had actually gotten invited to but had said I couldn’t go because I was going to be away recruiting. And then I went to the funeral, so I kind of changed our plans to make sure I could go to it. And it just kind of hit home.

“I think sometimes we all get wrapped up in our own individual lives and kind of forget what’s going on because it happens away from you. Obviously everybody was kind of in tune to it during 9/11, but when it doesn’t happen in your own backyard, you kind of forget what’s going on in the foreign countries.”

What he has drawn from spending time with the military, as well as watching them train at Coronado and in Virginia, has more to do with the mental side of the game of football than the physical or conditioning side. And he incorporates that into the way he coaches the Eagles.

“A lot of mental toughness you learn from them, and how they foster that,” he said. “A lot of leadership qualities that they look for. A lot of cooperation within the group. How does the group react in certain situations? Are they always looking for one guy to lead them or are there multiple guys at certain times? When that situation is presented to them, how do they do it?

“You’d be amazed at how many times they train certain individual things before they go off and perform them. They’re pretty meticulous in how they do it. I think how they debrief after missions is an intriguing aspect of what they did right, what they did wrong and how do they improve that the next time they go out?”

I love the fact that Kelly focuses on the mental toughness of the military people/units that he studies. To me, that’s where they are special. Obviously you need to be in good physical shape to be a soldier, but there are plenty of civilians in great shape as well. The military is special when it comes to building/teaching mental and emotional toughness. That is something that can definitely carry over to football.

You need players who can stay focused, even when things are not going well. You need players who are disciplined and will train the right way to be prepared for tough situations. You need players who are confident and fearless, but who also will listen to orders and can function as a unit.

* * * * *

Bob Grotz wrote about Kelly and not being satisfied with the success of 2013.

The biggest difference from last year is attitude. Kelly, at this early juncture, has his players believing they have each other’s backs. There are plenty of players to do the dirty work in this quest to leap from just OK to great.

“You’ve got to make sure that they’re not content being where they are,” Kelly said. “I think if you’re content with 10 wins and winning the division you’re probably shortchanging yourself and the team. We did that. What’s the next step? How can we improve upon that? We’re trying to get a bunch of guys that are never complacent in terms of, ‘All right, we’ve arrived.’ We haven’t arrived. We’re looking to work and strive to get better and better and better. That’s part of the deal. So I think that’s the thing we’re always trying to emphasize with these guys.”

I think one of the things that hurt the Skins was the way they celebrated after winning the division in 2012. They didn’t have a parade, but did just about everything else. Kelly is keeping his players hungry for more. Be proud of the success…for 24 hours. Then move on to the next thing.

Kelly didn’t come here for division titles. He wants to build a great team and win a championship. Last year was a step in the right direction, but nothing more.

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I wonder if non-Eagles fans hate the attention that Chip gets. Chip Kelly this, Chip Kelly that.

I love it. Talking about coaches is one of my favorite parts of football.

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NFC East Day

Posted: July 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 34 Comments »

The NFC East is the best division of the Super Bowl era. The East has won 12 Super Bowls. No other division comes close. There are another 8 SB losses by NFC East teams. That makes 20 appearances in 48 Super Bowls. There have been amazing players and coaches. The rivalries are among the best in sports. The NFC East has been a great division.

But 2014 isn’t looking so good.

I wrote a piece on the NFC East for PE.com.

In studying the other 3 teams, it is hard to see them as very good. I know I can be biased toward the Eagles so I tried to be thorough as I took a look at their other rosters and overall situations. We see surprise teams every year in the NFL. You never want to casually dismiss a team without looking at everything.

I just don’t see the Giants, Skins or Boys as likely playoff teams, barring something major happening.

The Giants have a new offensive coordinator and new offense. That could help, but the O-line still has issues and the front seven might be a major mess.

The Skins have a new head coach and that can be a good or bad thing depending on how he works out. They were just 3-13 a year ago, but really fell apart, losing their final 8 games.

The Boys are the kings of 8-8, having finished with that record for 3 straight years. The defense will now be run by Rod Marinelli, but a coaching change won’t make up for a lack of talent across the board.

No one is saying the Eagles are perfect, but they sure seem to be the dog with the least amount of fleas.

Let’s talk about some rankings.

COACH

1 – Tom Coughlin
2 – Chip Kelly
3 – Jason Garrett
4 – Jay Gruden

OFFENSE

1 – Eagles
2 – Boys
3 – Skins
4 – Giants

DEFENSE

1 – Giants
2 – Eagles
3 – Skins
4 – Boys

Right now I would project the division to go like this:

1 – Eagles
2 – Giants
3 – Boys
4 – Skins

That said, the Skins are the team that makes me the most nervous. RGIII has great potential and they do have some good pieces on offense. The defense has Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. That should be the foundation for an effective 3-4 defense.

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Jimmy Bama has been having some fun with NFC East teams on Twitter.

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