Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for 49ers' Final 53-Man Roster
On one hand, this is a good problem to have. San Francisco has oodles of talent on both sides of the ball. There is tremendous depth, both young and established. An elite roster was made even stronger thanks to the multitude of offseason acquisitions made by general manager Trent Baalke.
It's a good situation to be in. Would-be starters on other teams face stiff competition to secure roster spots with the 49ers. That competition brings out the best in most players.
But on the flip side, the final roster cuts before Week 1 essentially mean San Francisco will be parting ways with some clear-cut talent. Some will be destined for the practice squad, while others are released altogether.
Other teams around the league will certainly be eyeballing each one of the 49ers' transactions leading up to the start of the regular season, hoping to pick up players that may be capable of contributing at a high level.
This is the nature of the NFL. While the 49ers will put confidence in the best 53 players on the roster, some "good enough" players will assuredly get shown the door.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area put together an excellent summation of competition for these 53 roster spots, highlighting specifically who is a "lock," who looks good and who has a lot to prove.
In this slideshow, we speculate the final five players who barely make the cut as well as the top five who just missed out. Maiocco's assessment will give us a good starting point and we shall combine his insights with further analysis—both from other experts as well as this author.
Out: Josh Johnson, Quarterback
Josh Johnson, Quarterback
Five-year veteran quarterback Josh Johnson began his second stint with the 49ers after being signed to a one-year contract back in May, as per Taylor Price of 49ers.com.
Assessing San Francisco's quarterback competition heading into the 2014 season is pretty easy to do. At No. 1 is Colin Kaepernick who is the bonafide starter. Behind him is offseason acquisition Blaine Gabbert. For the No. 3 spot, the 49ers have a plethora of guys from which to pick.
Johnson is a part of that cast, along with returning backup McLeod Bethel-Thompson and undrafted free agent (UDFA) Kory Faulkner.
Out of those final three, Johnson is probably best suited to handle the system of offense the 49ers employ under offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Johnson has echoed that his second term in San Francisco should be much easier given the changes within the 49ers' offense per 49ers.com.
Further lending to the thought Johnson could be an impactful player is his performance during the 49ers' organized team activities (OTAs), of which Johnson was one who excelled notably—even playing some wide receiver, as per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
But the big question, of course, is whether or not all of this will be enough to warrant a roster spot.
All of this is contingent on if the 49ers decide to carry three quarterbacks on their active roster at the start of the season. If they do, Johnson's chances increase dramatically given that both Bethel-Thompson and Faulkner are eligible for practice squad placement.
However, if the 49ers would rather keep only two quarterbacks—which is a high possibility—Johnson's lone chance would stand in direct competition with Gabbert.
While Gabbert's OTA sessions have had plenty of up-and-down moments, he has done well enough to impress some coaches per Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.
There is also his four-year, $12 million—all guaranteed—contract to consider. From a financial standpoint alone, it seems as if the 49ers are comfortable with Gabbert as their No. 2 quarterback, regardless of any hiccups in his performance.
Prediction: OUT—Johnson is a long shot to make the roster, and given how much talent the 49ers have elsewhere, it is hard to envision the team keeping three quarterbacks on the active roster. Contractually, Gabbert has a strong edge for the No. 2 job, which forces Johnson out the door.
Alternate: Faulkner is almost guaranteed to be a practice squad addition, but Bethel-Thompson does have experience, having been on the active roster last season. Still, the fact he is eligible for the practice squad means the 49ers will be comfortable placing him there when the season starts.
In: Darryl Morris, Cornerback
Darryl Morris, Cornerback
The cornerback position is one of the more difficult areas to assess when it comes to determining which players make the final 53-man roster.
This was also argued by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area when he was assembling his list summarizing the competition for the final roster.
San Francisco has a lot of new faces in its secondary this season—all of whom will add to the stiff competition for perhaps five roster spots at the position.
Second-year veteran Darryl Morris is one such player who can be listed on the bubble. Signed as an UDFA after the 2013 NFL draft, Morris played in 13 games last season and was primarily featured on special teams.
This year, Morris hopes to make more of a mark on defense this year, as per Bill Williamson of ESPN.
The only question is whether or not he'll be able to assume this role.
Morris is vying for slot-cover work this season—a competition alongside fellow corners Perrish Cox and rookie Jimmie Ward.
Morris' chances to take the position have been opened up, first by the release of veteran Carlos Rogers and then by the subsequent retiring of Eric Wright.
But as Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee points out, the slot cornerback position typically demands experience—something the 23-year-old Morris does not have. Yet Barrows does recognize Morris' combination of football smarts as well as blazing speed.
The last two elements are going to be the best parts to him earning the job.
Ward is another player who is challenging Morris for this role. Yet Ward's pre-combine injury has sidelined him for much of San Francisco's offseason sessions, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio stated via Eric Branch of SF Gate that the injury could thwart the rookie's development.
This gives Morris an even better shot to earn a roster spot—not just as a member of special teams, but perhaps as the team's starting nickel corner in Week 1 while Ward catches up.
To do this, Morris will have to overtake Cox at some point, so let's keep an eye on that competition as well.
Prediction: Morris' contributions on special teams already give him an edge to make the roster. Maiocco pointed out that he looked good in coverage during OTAs, and this element gives the 49ers confidence to place him on the roster at the back end of the cornerback depth chart.
Alternate: While Ward is a shoe-in for the roster, Cox is another player on the bubble. The competition essentially boils down between him and Morris. If Cox—who is bigger and has more experience—impresses coaches more than Morris, Cox will get the final nod.
Out: Perrish Cox, Cornerback
Perrish Cox, Cornerback
If you have one, you cannot have the other.
That is essentially what it boils down to between Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris as they continue their bout in the cornerback competition.
From an all-inclusive standpoint, this author would be comfortable with either Cox or Morris assuming a role on the back end of San Francisco's depth chart. Both have shown promise in defensive coverage, and both have value on special teams.
While Morris has speed in his corner, Cox has veteran experience and size to his advantage.
The 49ers also keep finding a way to placing him on the roster as well even after bouncing around on and off the team.
49ers have agreed in principal to a deal with CB Perrish Cox. It's a one-year deal.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) March 25, 2014
Another factor that appears to be in Cox's favor is that he received much of the first-team work on defense at the slot corner position per David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
This would indicate that the 49ers are likely more trustworthy of Cox's level of play than they are of Morris.
So why does Cox get the axe when it comes to assembling the final roster?
This author is willing to bank on the 49ers' desire to go with speed rather than size and experience. The one question coming into this preseason was whether or not Morris would be able to handle coverage duties. Apparently he has, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
This would mean Cox would have to overtake either Morris or Jimmie Ward—the latter of which will not happen given Ward's high draft stock.
Prediction: The 49ers have been excited about Morris and his speed for some time. With a year under his belt, Morris is the favorite to earn the starting nickel corner role in Week 1. Ward eventually assumes this role when Vic Fangio feels comfortable with his development. This means Cox and the 49ers part ways once more.
Alternate: As stated on the previous slide, it is hard to envision a scenario where the 49ers keep both Cox and Morris. But if Cox impresses enough during camp and into the preseason, Morris may likely wind up off the 53-man roster. Keep an eye on this competition.
In: LaMichael James, Running Back
LaMichael James, Running Back
We know the 49ers are crowded when it comes to the running back position. Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore are all going to be vying for touches this upcoming season.
LaMichael James is going to be hoping for more action on the offensive side of the ball as well.
There is no need to dive deep into James' frustration with his limited role on offense. We know he has voiced his opinion on this, much of it summed up by Josh Alper of NBC Sports.
LaMichael James wants to be more than just a kick returner http://t.co/2fSSWhg58o— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 12, 2014
There is also speculation that James could be on the trading block leading up to the start of the 2014 season. Erik Lambert of Fansided.com points out a few trade scenarios that could involve the 49ers shipping James off somewhere.
But is this something San Francisco is willing to do at this point? General manager Trent Baalke dismissed the idea earlier this offseason, but that could be just a diversionary tactic at this point.
Here is what we do know:
James has looked very solid in the return game this offseason—an element pointed out by David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area also points out that James' roster spot looks much more secure than it did a month ago, citing his return abilities as a primary reason.
#49ers Harbaugh praised several players, including RB/returner LaMichael James. Interesting because he could be bubble player.— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonESPN) June 19, 2014
Much of this could be directly tied to the 49ers' remaining situation at running back, specifically Kendall Hunter.
Hunter is as good a No. 2 back as there is, but the additions of Hyde and Lattimore to the active roster will thwart his chances to impact the offense.
Additionally, Hunter's contract expires after the 2014 season, and the 49ers would ideally like to get something in return for him.
This is pointed out by David Ochoa of Fansided.com, who states that Hunter would be more ideal of a trade candidate over James given Hunter's contract and larger body of work on offense.
If the 49ers decide to move Hunter—a plausible move at some point during the preseason—there would be little reason to part ways with James, especially when considering his role on special teams.
Regardless of whether or not James is frustrated with his role, he does appear to be the favorite in the return game, and San Francisco does not want to pass that element up.
Prediction: James' immediate future with the 49ers is safe even if it is in just a return-man role. Whether or not offensive coordinator Greg Roman elects to utilize him more on offense remains a question. But for now, James should be on the roster as San Francisco's primary kick and punt returner.
Alternate: Assuming the 49ers decide to move James, they would need to find a player to take over the return job. Perhaps a rookie like Bruce Ellington—who did this at the collegiate level—could step in. This would plausibly open up a roster spot for a role player—Lawrence Okoye perhaps?
Out: Adam Snyder, Guard
Adam Snyder, Guard
Nine-year veteran guard Adam Snyder has one undeniable factor in his favor entering the 2014 season as a primary backup for the 49ers.
He is versatile.
Snyder has been featured in all the positions along the offensive line over his career and has done so with varying degrees of success.
While versatility is always a good thing, does this aspect guarantee Snyder will have a job on San Francisco's O-line this season?
Granted, all of this is in direct relation to the ongoing contractual developments that are taking place with holdout lineman Alex Boone. Should the two parties continue a standoff, Snyder's prospects for staying with the team look good.
But let us assume that Boone ends his holdout. What would that spell for Snyder?
James Brady of Niners Nation offers perhaps the best summation of Snyder's eventual 2014 impact with the team. Brady acknowledges that Snyder looked awful in pass protection last season when filling in for Mike Iupati during the NFC Championship.
Adam Snyder is the backup at left guard. He started four games late in the season for Iupati, when he was out with a knee injury.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) January 20, 2014
Brady comes to an inconclusive conclusion, stating he is "50/50" to make the roster at this point.
While there is the flexibility in Snyder's favor, one also has to account for the fact that offseason acquisition Jonathan Martin has been taking snaps at guard in addition to his natural position at tackle per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Additionally, Maiocco points out that backup lineman Joe Looney had an impressive training camp, which also thwarts Snyder's chances of sticking around.
Then there is the contractual constraint.
Snyder is set to make $1.225 million in 2014 before being a free agent after the season. That is a sizable chunk of money for a backup lineman when considering the 49ers can fill the void with a younger and cheaper player.
All of these factors stack up against Snyder as the season draws near. Granted, the Boone situation can affect what happens moving forward, but it's looking like Snyder's window to remain with the team is closing.
Prediction: Martin's handling of the backup duties along the O-line—along with rookie Marcus Martin—rend Snyder dispensable. The 49ers have little problem releasing the veteran lineman and saving some precious cap space.
Alternate: Looney is perhaps the lone O-lineman Snyder could hope to surpass on the depth chart before the season. If he does, Looney would likely be the odd man out in the offensive line equation.
In: Kassim Osgood
Kassim Osgood, Wide Receiver
As a wide receiver, 34-year-old Kassim Osgood offers almost nothing from an offensive vantage point. Last season he totaled one reception for 17 yards.
But Osgood's value lies more as a gunner on special teams than anywhere else.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com heralded Osgood as "one of the best special teams gunners in pro football." Thus, it makes sense that Osgood has stuck around in the NFL for so long in spite of not having much to offer on offense.
No wonder the 49ers brought him back on a one-year deal earlier this offseason.
During his 14-game stretch with the 49ers last season, Osgood recorded 12 special teams tackles and scored one touchdown on a fumble recovery, as per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Now the question is whether or not Osgood can hold his special teams gunner job in 2014.
If there is a knock against Osgood making the roster, it is the fact that he is in his mid 30s. While his exceptional gunner abilities are noted, such capabilities only last for so long, and is this the time San Francisco elects to get younger?
But on the other hand, Osgood does offer quite an upside in this specialist role. The 49ers' special teams unit may also have a lot of fresh, young faces in 2014, so Osgood's veteran presence could provide some added stability and influence.
James Brady of Niners Nation sees Osgood as making the final 53-man roster, giving him the second-highest chance of making the cut just behind fellow ace C.J. Spillman.
Granted, the nature of special teams can change in a hurry based on what the coaching staff is seeing elsewhere on the field. Since Osgood offers little else, it is not out of the question that the 49ers replace him with someone that has youth and a little more flexibility.
But until that clearly reveals itself, Osgood's job looks relatively safe.
Prediction: Osgood returns as a special teams gunner in 2014. He is cheap and has the veteran prowess San Francisco covets. While offense is not in his game, the 49ers do not want to see their special teams' coverage unit suffer any setbacks this season.
Alternate: Bubba Ventrone's special teams contributions could also warrant consideration, especially when comparing the two players' ages. If the 49ers feel getting younger is better, Ventrone may be the player who earns the nod.
Out: Lawrence Okoye, Defensive Lineman
Lawrence Okoye, Defensive Lineman
A year ago, British Olympian Lawrence Okoye would have had perhaps the longest shot of all when it came to making the 49ers' 53-man roster. He was still learning the game of football, after all.
Enter this season and Okoye is at least making a name for himself being on the bubble of making the cut.
Although he is listed as a defensive lineman, the 6-foot-6, 304-pound Okoye has a few intangibles that could make him a factor on special teams.
Eric Branch of SF Gate suggests that he could be, writing:
[The] onetime British rugby player and Olympic discus thrower, appears to be a quicker study in a role that doesn’t require mastering as much technique: kickoff-coverage kamikaze. His raw ability seemingly makes his well-suited for a role on kickoff coverage. Okoye, 22, who was on injured reserve last year, has attended special-teams meetings since 2013. The 49ers have had success with a defensive lineman on kickoff coverage: Demarcus Dobbs (6-2, 275), a core special-teams player, has also run down on kickoffs since 2012.
While all of these attributes certainly play into Okoye's favor, the fact remains that he has had little exposure to football in general. All of this will certainly require more work.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio summed this up, via Mike Wilkening of NBC Sports, by saying:
There aren't many guys, if you guys did any research, there aren't many 6-5 or taller guys that are good defensive players. There’s some. But, there’s not a lot. They’ve got to be able to bend their knees and play low, and use their height to their advantage when they can. But, they've got to bend their knees and get them down to 6-2 when they need to. So, he’s going to have to play the game lower and use his natural ability that he does have.
Fangio's statements essentially tell the tale of where Okoye winds up entering the 2014 season. His sheer size and athleticism have put him on the bubble from the 49ers' vantage point. But the fact that he is raw lends doubt to him making the roster.
There is another factor in the question of how San Francisco will handle Okoye. If he is placed onto the practice squad, Okoye will first have to clear waivers, which means another team could feasibly grab him.
Fangio and head coach Jim Harbaugh have stressed how little action Okoye has seen, and this is perhaps intended to keep other teams' prying eyes away from claiming him—an aspect also argued by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Still, it is hard to envision the 49ers giving a roster spot to a person with little NFL experience in spite of the physical attributes. They would love to keep him around another year and see where his development takes him. But that would likely be on the practice squad.
Prediction: The 49ers continue to be quiet on Okoye's development with the hopes other NFL teams draw little interest. Okoye is then placed on the practice squad in 2014 and allowed to continue his development.
Alternate: If Okoye somehow finds a way to make the roster, it would likely spell the end for one of the other special teamers. Perhaps Demarcus Dobbs would be the odd-man out.
In: Aaron Lynch, Outside Linebacker
Aaron Lynch, Outside Linebacker
Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch lined up as a defensive end in college, but has now shifted positions to better suit his 6-foot-6, 244-pound frame.
On one hand, Lynch is a pass-rushing specialist who totaled 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss, split between Notre Dame and South Florida. One can never have too many pass-rushers.
But Lynch also comes with plenty of baggage, aside from the switch from one collegiate program to another.
Further details of Lynch's problems are summarized by Ryan Ratty of Rantsports.com, who states that "Lynch has the ability to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL if he can keep his head on straight."
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area also points out that Lynch is one of those players on the bubble with "a lot to prove," citing that Lynch—in spite of his talents—is someone who "could drop off the map altogether."
The 49ers are obviously hoping that Lynch puts his talents to good use—development now thwarted somewhat by the news of a hamstring strain during OTAs, as per Maiocco.
If this was the complete picture, Lynch's chances of making the roster would be in serious jeopardy. But there are other elements to consider.
The most significant of course is what transpires with Aldon Smith in the wake of his off-the-field issues.
Should the NFL decide to hand down a lengthy suspension, or do they wait until the legal process plays itself out?
If Smith opens the season under suspension, he would not count against the 53-man roster until he was eligible for return. This opens up a roster spot, in addition to fueling the need to ensure depth at the outside linebacker position.
With this in mind, Lynch looks more favorable as a roster addition. The 49ers are likely willing to look beyond the negatives that are associated with Lynch and focus more on what he brings to the field.
Prediction: If Smith is suspended at the start of 2014, Lynch should make the roster. He will be buried on the depth chart behind Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta, but San Francisco will at least take comfort in knowing they have amicable depth at the position.
Alternate: The 49ers have good depth at linebacker, but if Lynch somehow does not make the team, San Francisco could give another spot to Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov.
Out: Jon Baldwin, Wide Receiver
Jon Baldwin, Wide Receiver
Wide receiver Jon Baldwin's future with the 49ers was already in jeopardy before the 2014 NFL draft. After the additions of wideouts like Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington, Baldwin's chances look even more precarious.
Being that he is a former first-round draft choice, however, he should still be considered on the roster bubble.
Baldwin was sent to San Francisco in exchange for their own first-round draft bust A.J. Jenkins prior to the 2013 regular season. At that point, the 49ers were looking for something—anything—to help their depleted wide receiver corps.
But Baldwin was nary a factor—totaling only three receptions for 28 yards in seven games.
In spite of his 6'4", 225-pound frame, Baldwin has simply not lived up to his high draft stock.
Yet the 49ers understood what the trade truly meant. By trading for Baldwin—and subsequently renegotiating his contract in 2014—the 49ers can get out from under the deal one year earlier than they would have been able to with Jenkins.
Financially, it makes sense.
Now, Baldwin has a chance to compete for a job. But this was made more difficult thanks to the additions of Lloyd, Johnson and Ellington.
We know the 49ers are comfortable with keeping plenty of wide receivers on their roster. This, combined with the reported news that San Francisco will pass more in 2014, suggests Baldwin may have an outside chance to make the roster.
But will he secure that position?
According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, Baldwin was one such player whose stock fell during minicamp.
Conceivably, sure. Baldwin is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He is big and he could probably get bigger. If Vernon Davis holds out in training camp, perhaps the 49ers would think about it. Baldwin has virtually no chance to make the roster as a receiver. I think the chances of him making it as a tight end would be a longshot as well. The former first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs has had trouble making an impact in the league in any way.
His physique and first-round draft status are the only things keeping Baldwin relevant at this point. If it weren't for those aspects, Baldwin would not warrant any consideration.
Still, his chances for making the roster are slim-to-none.
Prediction: The 49ers may try desperately to showcase Baldwin during the preseason with the hopes of enticing another team to make a trade for the lackluster receiver. Whatever happens with this regard remains to be seen, but do not expect him to earn a roster spot.
Alternate: Let's roll with the wild prediction that Williamson answers regarding Baldwin shifting to a tight end role. If, by some crazy means, this happens and he secures a roster spot—obviously affected by Davis' holding out—that would mean parting ways with Garrett Celek and/or Derek Carrier.
In: Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver
Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver
Following the acquisitions at wide receiver the 49ers made during the 2014 NFL draft, Brandon Lloyd's chances of making the 53-man roster would have looked slim at best.
Consider his placement behind incumbents Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton—along with additions Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington—and it looked as if San Francisco's signing of Lloyd was merely an insurance policy against acquiring receivers in the draft.
Now, the crop of wideouts is stacked, which lends little chance for the 32-year-old—who took a year off from football in 2013—to make an impact on the final roster.
But there have been a few aspects that not only keep Lloyd relevant, but make him a factor when determining the final wide receiver depth chart.
First, the 49ers would like to see their offense improve in the red zone. Lloyd is a substantial factor in this regard—19 of his 35 career touchdowns have come within the 20-yard line.
On top of that, Lloyd has had an impressive offseason regimen with San Francisco.
His OTA session were impressive, as per Karl Buscheck of Bay Sports Net, who touted the reception Lloyd has been receiving from his teammates.
According to their praises, Lloyd still possesses great burst and speed and looks nothing like having taken a year off from football.
So at the end of the discussion, where does all this factor into where Lloyd ends up?
Kevin Lynch of SF Gate points out some obvious problems when it comes to adding Lloyd to the roster. He writes:
The 49ers already have starters in Boldin and Crabtree, free-agent acquisition Johnson, promising second-year player Quinton Patton and rookie fourth-round choice Ellington. That’s five receivers without Lloyd. Then, the team has to consider Kassim Osgood, who is a special teams ace in wide receiver’s clothing. Despite his auspicious start, Lloyd comes with baggage. He took a year off, so will be motivated during training camp rigors, or when the ball doesn’t come his way? His poor blocking is also concern on a run-driven team.
Brandon Lloyd will put pressure on the rest of the receiving corps. http://t.co/f0hhveuL6m— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) June 12, 2014
There is a logjam at this position. It is hard to consider the 49ers parting ways with players like Patton, Johnson or Ellington at this point. Crabtree and Boldin are essentially guaranteed spots.
That makes Lloyd a sixth wideout at best.
Now there is Greg Roman's assertion the 49ers will pass more, which gives Lloyd a better shot. But Lloyd still has a bit of an uphill battle.
Perhaps this is where Lloyd's value comes into play.
For starters, Johnson has been limited thanks to a hamstring injury per Mike Florio of NBC Sports. This could open up the door for Lloyd at the start of the season if the injury lingers.
Then there is Ellington. Ellington is not guaranteed a roster spot—few rookies are—and it is plausible to envision a scenario where Lloyd gets plenty of early season reps while Ellington hones his craft under the tutelage of some of the older members of this unit.
Plus, one can factor in Lloyd's contributions in the red zone. If he can showcase this ability in the preseason, his roster stock would continue to be very high.
Prediction: Lloyd appears safe to make the roster, at least at the start of the season. There are no guarantees to whether or not he stays, but given a nice rapport developed with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers' coaching staff is convinced he is deserving of a job.
Alternate: There really is not any other alternative, sans Jon Baldwin, and that one is grim at best. If Lloyd doesn't make the roster, San Francisco will likely keep one of their special teamers in his place.
Which players do you feel will just miss the cut? Which ones barely get by onto the roster for Week 1? Chime in on the comments section and speak your mind!
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers news, insight and analysis.
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