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Jersey Numbers: Linebackers

This is our next to last post choosing the best players at each position by jersey number. If you have quibbles, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post and kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post. Now we move to linebackers, who can wear numbers in the 50s and the 90s with a few exceptions. If a number is omitted, it’s because no linebacker who has played this season wears those digits.

46 – Vinny Ciurciu, Lions – Ciurciu is the only linebacker currently wearing 46. He has played in six games this year, seeing most of his action on special teams. Now with his fourth team, Ciurciu also has a good locker-room nickname (see the bottom of the linked post).

47 – Brit Miller, 49ers – Miller is the only linebacker currently wearing 47. The rookie out of Illinois has played in two games this season.

49 – Zack Follett, Lions – Follett is the only linebacker currently wearing 49. The rookie out of Cal has played in nine games this year, mostly on special teams.

50 – Curtis Lofton, Falcons – Lofton, a second-year middle linebacker, has emerged as a tackle machine for the Falcons. His growth allowed the Dirty Birds to let stalwart Keith Brooking leave via free agency, and now it’s Lofton who will lead Atlanta’s defense for years to come. Lofton is tied for second in the NFL with 118 tackles. We give him the nod over OLB Mike Vrabel, who had great years in New England and is now a veteran leader in Kansas City. Other notable 50s: Russell Allen, Jaguars; James Anderson, Panthers; K.C. Asiodu, Rams; Antwan Barnes, Ravens; Eric Barton, Browns; Monty Beisel, Cardinals; Rocky Boiman, Steelers; Diyral Briggs, 49ers; Isaiah Ekejiuba, Raiders; Vernon Gholston, Jets; A.J. Hawk, Packers; Erin Henderson, Vikings; Lance Laury, Seahawks; Matt McCoy, Buccaneers; Marvin Mitchell, Saints; Rob Ninkovich, Patriots; Ernie Sims, Lions; David Thornton, Titans; Erik Walden, Dolphins; Philip Wheeler, Colts; Will Witherspoon, Eagles

51 – Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ruud has emerged as a do-everything middle linebacker for the Buccaneers, and he’s one of the few bright spots on the team’s defense. He’s fifth in the league with 113 tackles and also has six passes defensed. He gets the nod over Jonathan Vilma of New Orleans, who may be better in pass coverage. Also worth mentioning are long-time veterans Keith Brooking of Dallas, James Farrior of Pittsburgh, and Takeo Spikes of the 49ers; youngsters Jerod Mayo of the Patriots and Paul Posluszny of Buffalo; and injured Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu. Other notable 51s: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Ravens; Akin Ayodele, Dolphins; Tim Diles, Chargers; Ryan Fowler, Jets; Tony Gilbert, Falcons; Alex Hall, Browns; Clint Ingram, Colts; Ben Leber, Vikings; Corey Mays, Chiefs; Joe Mays, Eagles; Gerald McRath, Titans; Brady Poppinga, Packers; Dan Skuta, Bengals; Chaun Thompson, Texans

52 – Ray Lewis, Ravens – This is a loaded number that features Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers in Carolina MLB Jon Beason, San Francisco MLB Patrick Willis, and Jets ILB David Harris, but Lewis gets the nod for his long, productive career that continues at a very high level. Other notable youngsters include rookie Clay Matthews of Green Bay, Kirk Morrison of Oakland, Daryl Smith of Jacksonville, and injured Browns ILB D’Qwell Jackson. Other notable 52s: Xavier Adibi, Texans; Eric Alexander, Patriots;  Michael Boley, Giants; Cody Brown, Cardinals; Jonathan Casillas, Saints; Channing Crowder, Dolphins; Chris Draft, Bills; Larry English, Chargers; Cody Glenn, Colts; Chad Greenway, Vikings; David Herron, Chiefs; Abdul Hodge, Bengals; D.D. Lewis, Seahawks;  Rocky McIntosh, Redskins; Jamar Williams, Bears; Coy Wire, Falcons

53 – Keith Bulluck, Titans – Bulluck has long been the emotional leader of the Titans’ defense, and he remains a solid sideline-to-sideline player. His three interceptions tie him for the lead among linebackers, and his 10 passes defensed place him second at the position. He’s also among the top 10 in tackles for linebackers. That’s enough to give him the nod over Atlanta’s Mike Peterson, another long-time, solid performer. Other notable 53s: Marcus Buggs, Bills; Derrick Burgess, Patriots; Khary Campbell, Texans; Na’il Diggs, Panthers; Moise Fokou, Eagles; Clark Haggans, Cardinals; James Holt, Chargers; Thomas Howard, Raiders; Larry Izzo, Jets; Rashad Jeanty, Bengals; Bryan Kehl, Giants; Niko Koutouvides, Buccaneers; Paris Lenon, Rams; Jameel McClain, Ravens; Tyrone McKenzie, Patriots; Steve Octavien, Cowboys; Nick Roach, Bears; Matt Roth, Browns; Mark Simoneau, Saints; Bryan Smith, Jaguars; Reggie Torbor, Dolphins; Jeff Ulbrich, 49ers; Demorrio Williams, Chiefs

54 – Andra Davis, Broncos – This number lost its stalwart when Brian Urlacher of Chicago was knocked out for the season. So among a group of solid if unspectacular inside linebackers, we’ll give Davis the nod for his contributions (72 tackles, 3.5 sacks) in reinvigorating the Denver defense. Other contenders were Chargers ILB Stephen Cooper and Titans MLB Stephen Tulloch. Other notable 54s: H.B. Blades, Redskins; Jasper Brinkley, Vikings; Prescott Burgess, Ravens; Bobby Carpenter, Cowboys; Brandon Chillar, Packers; Blake Costanzo, Browns; Kenwin Cummings, Jets; Zac Diles, Texans; Troy Evans, Saints; Andre Frazier, Steelers; Jonathan Goff, Giants; Nic Harris, Bills; Geno Hayes, Buccaneers; Gerald Hayes, Cardinals; Will Herring, Seahawks; Freddie Keiaho, Colts; DeAndre Levy, Lions; Stephen Nicholas, Falcons; Jeremiah Trotter, Eagles; Tracy White, Eagles; Sam Williams, Raiders

55 – Terrell Suggs, Ravens – This is a tough call, because Suggs has just 3.5 sacks this season and has missed three games. But on the whole, he’s the most complete linebacker at this position, because he can be a dynamite pass rusher and also do well against the run and in coverage. I’d rather have Suggs that Miami OLB Joey Porter, who has eight sacks thus far this season, or Chicago’s playmaking WLB Lance Briggs, who stars in the featured position in the old Tampa 2 defense the Bears run. Other solid vets wearing 55 include Detroit’s Larry Foote and Denver’s D.J. Williams, while youngsters Clint Session of Indianapolis and James Laurinaitis of St. Louis deserve mention as well. Other notable 55s: Jon Alston, Raiders; Patrick Bailey, Steelers; Desmond Bishop, Packers; Alvin Bowen, Redskins; Stewart Bradley, Eagles; Ahmad Brooks, 49ers; Danny Clark, Giants; Dan Connor, Panthers; Scott Fujita, Saints; Stephen Hodge, Cowboys; Kawika Mitchell, Bills; Kenny Onatolu, Vikings; Keith Rivers, Bengals; Justin Rogers, Chiefs; Junior Seau, Patriots; Reggie Walker, Cardinals; Jamaal Westerman, Jets

56 – Brian Cushing, Texans – It’s hard to imagine giving a rookie like Cushing the honor at a highly populated number like this one, but Cushing has earned it. He’s sixth among linebackers with 116 tackles and also has 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 12 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and a safety. That’s huge impact that earns him the nod over Shawne Merriman of San Diego, who isn’t the same after last season’s knee injury, pass-rushing stud LaMarr Woodley of Pittsburgh, and solid all-around players Nick Barnett of Green Bay and Bradie James of Dallas. Other notable 56s: Colin Allred, Titans; Charlie Anderson, Dolphins; Robert Ayers, Broncos; Quinton Culbertson, Panthers; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Saints; Justin Durant, Jaguars; Keith Ellison, Bills; Tavares Gooden, Ravens; Tyjuan Hagler, Colts; E.J. Henderson, Vikings; Leroy Hill, Seahawks; Derrick Johnson, Chiefs; Akeem Jordan, Eagles; Kaluka Maiava, Browns; Scott McKillop, 49ers; David Nixon, Raiders; Chike Okeafor, Cardinals; Rod Wilson, Buccaneers

57 – Bart Scott, Jets – New Jets head coach Rex Ryan brought Scott with him from Baltimore as a high-dollar free agent to be the emotional leader and scheme expert in the middle of Gang Green’s defense. Scott has played fine for the Jets, but over the year it’s been fellow ILB David Harris who has emerged as a top-tier player. Still, Scott gets the nod over veteran Dhani Jones of Cincinnati and David Hawthorne, who’s having a terrific season as a fill-in starter at middle linebacker for Seattle. Other notable 57s: Stanley Arnoux, Saints; Kevin Bentley, Texans; Chase Blackburn, Giants; Ricky Brown, Raiders; Victor Butler, Cowboys; Chris Chamberlain, Saints; Jon Corto, Bills; Jordon Dizon, Lions; Keyaron Fox, Steelers; Chris Gocong, Eagles; Mario Haggan, Broncos; Adam Hayward, Buccaneers; Jordan Senn, Panthers; David Veikune, Browns; Matt Wilhelm, 49ers

58 – Karlos Dansby, Cardinals – It’s hard to imagine a better physical specimen at outside linebacker than Dansby, who is a leader on a strong Cardinals defense. He gets the nod over Gary Brackett, an undersized middle linebacker at the heart of the Colts defense. Other notable 58s: Marcus Benard, Browns; Quincy Black, Buccaneers; Thomas Davis, Panthers; Marques Harris, Chargers; Robert Henson, Redskins; Rey Maualuga, Bengals; Slade Norris, Raiders; Antonio Pierce, Giants; Scott Shanle, Saints; Tim Shaw, Bears; David Vobora, Rams; Jason Williams, Cowboys; Pierre Woods, Patriots

59 – London Fletcher, Redskins – Fletcher doesn’t have ideal size, but year after year he is a leader, a reliable tackler, and a playmaker, no matter what team he’s playing for. He’s a great success story as an undrafted player. He gets the nod over Julian Peterson of Detroit and DeMeco Ryans of Houston. Other notable 59s: Spencer Adkins, Falcons; Jovan Belcher, Chiefs; Angelo Crowell, Buccaneers; Aaron Curry, Seahawks; Dannell Ellerbe, Ravens; Heath Farwell, Vikings; Larry Grant, Rams; Gary Guyton, Patriots; Ramon Humber, Colts; Brian Iwuh, Jaguars; Brandon Johnson, Bengals; Landon Johnson, Panthers; Brad Jones, Packers; Cato June, Bears; Stanford Keglar, Titans; Ashlee Palmer, Bills; Brandon Siler, Chargers; Pisa Tinoisamoa, Bears; Gerris Wilkerson, Giants; Brandon Williams, Cowboys; Wesley Woodyard, Broncos

74 – Aaron Kampman, Packers – Kampman, who moved from defensive end to outside ‘backer this season as Green Bay implemented a 3-4 defense, kept his old D-lineman number. Kampman didn’t have a great transition season, with just 3.5 sacks in nine games before suffering a season-ending injury. But he’s still a good player, and he’s the only linebacker wearing 74, so he merits a mention.

90 – No linebackers wearing 90 have played a game this season.

91 – Tamba Hali, Chiefs – Hali is emerging as a solid pass rusher in Kansas City, with 7.5 sacks thus far this season. He gets the nod at this number over Cameron Wake, Miami’s CFL import who has 5.5 sacks in his first NFL season.

92 – Elvis Dumervil, Broncos – In one of the toughest calls of this whole project, we’re going with Dumervil, the NFL leader with 15 sacks, over 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison of Pittsburgh. Both guys play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and both add the fright factor to their respective defenses. But while Harrison may be a better player in pass coverage, Dumervil is having a defensive player of the year caliber campaign in Denver, and so for 2009 we have to opt for him. Other notable 92s: Bertrand Berry, Cardinals; Hunter Hillenmeyer, Bears

93 – Anthony Spencer, Cowboys – Spencer has been a disappointment at outside ‘backer since the Cowboys made him a first-round pick three years ago, but as a full-time player he gets the nod over Jason Trusnik, who has moved into the starting lineup in Cleveland after a midseason trade from the Jets.

94 – DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys – Ware is a preeminent pass rusher with nine sacks this year and 62.5 in five seasons so far. Also deserving mention is Lawrence Timmons, an emerging inside ‘backer for the Steelers. Other notable 94s: Arnold Harrison, Browns; Marques Murrell, Jets; Jyles Tucker, Chargers

95 – Shaun Phillips, Chargers – In a close call, the nod here goes to Phillips, a pass-rushing outside ‘backer who has seven sacks for San Diego, over Cleveland OLB Kamerion Wimbley, who has 6.5 sacks. The six fumbles Phillips has forced was the determining factor. We’ll also shout out to Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson, another emerging pass-rusher. Other notable 95s: Tully Banta-Cain, Patriots; Ali Highsmith, Cardinals

96 – David Bowens, Browns – Bowens came with Eric Mangini from the Jets to Cleveland. He has long been an above-average pass-rushing outside ‘backer, and he has five sacks in that role this season. He gets the nod over declining Patriot Adalius Thomas. Other notable 96s: Omar Gaither, Eagles; Andy Studebaker, Chiefs

97 – Calvin Pace, Jets – Pace missed the first four games of the season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension, but since returning he has continued to provide pass rush off the edge with six sacks. Other notable 97s: Clint Sintim, Giants; Pierre Walters, Chiefs

98 – Brian Orakpo, Redskins – Orakpo, Washington’s first-round pick, has 11 sacks in his rookie season, including four last week against Oakland. That’s the kind of defensive jolt Washington was hoping for when it drafted him. Other notable 98s: Shawn Crable, Patriots; Parys Haralson, 49ers; Darrell McClover, Bears

99 – Jason Taylor, Dolphins – Taylor spent most of his career as a 4-3 defensive end, but he has seamlessly made the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker over the last few years. After a slow season in his one campaign in Washington, Taylor has six sacks this year for Miami, giving him 126.5 in his 13-year career. Other notable 99s: Kevin Burnett, Chargers; Paul Kruger, Ravens; Manny Lawson, 49ers; Bryan Thomas, Jets; Jeremy Thompson, Packers

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Week 9 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 8 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Lions (add CB Jack Williams) – Williams was the player that the Broncos cut to add Ty Law late last week, and he was obviously in demand as four teams put in a waiver claim. He went to Detroit, which cut Jason David in favor of Williams. That’s the kind of move a bad team needs to make, because while Williams probably isn’t a starting-quality corner, he could end up being a nickel or dime guy down the line. Once again, the Lions showed aggressiveness in adding a guy who might be able to help, which is a good sign.

Raiders (add DT William Joseph) – The Raiders brought back Joseph, a former first-round pick by the Giants, and cut former starting OG Paul McQuistan. In other words, they shuffled the deck chairs. The Titanic? It’s still sinking.

Subtractions

Chiefs (cut RB Larry Johnson; put OG Mike Goff on injured reserve) – We broke down Johnson’s cut on our MVN blog. The Chiefs also put Goff, a long-time starter in Cincinnati and San Diego who moved to K.C. this year and started seven of eight games, on injured reserve and signed Justin Rogers to take Goff’s roster spot.

Panthers (put LB Thomas Davis on injured reserve) – Davis had been a big playmaker at the strong-side linebacker spot, but he suffered a knee injury that will sideline him over the rest of the season. That’s a blow to a Panthers defense that has just a placeholder at the other OLB spot in Na’il Diggs. Carolina promoted LB Kelvin Smith from the practice squad to take Davis’ roster spot.

Browns (put LB Eric Barton on injured reserve) – Barton was one of the ex-Jets that Eric Mangini brought over to install his defense in Cleveland. Now he’s one of two starting inside ‘backers who is out for the year. That’s a blow to a Cleveland D that is bad to begin with. The Browns signed Josh Stamer to take Barton’s roster spot.

Bengals (put WR Chris Henry and S Roy Williams on injured reserve) – The Bengals suffered two big blows because of injuries this week. Henry, the team’s No. 3 receiver and top deep threat, broke his arm vs. Baltimore last week and is gone for the year. Williams, who has been starting at safety, suffered a forerarm injury as well. These injuries will test the Bengals’ depth. To fill these roster spots, Cincy promoted WR Maurice Purify from the practice squad and brought back OG Scott Kooistra, whom they had cut last week.

Eagles (put CB Ellis Hobbs on injured reserve) – The Eagles took two blows at cornerback this week. Hobbs, who was not only a corner but also the team’s kickoff returner, sustained a neck injury that ended his season. Meanwhile, fourth corner Joselio Hanson was suspended four games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. To replace the two corners, the Eagles signed CB Ramzee Robinson (who can also serve as a returner) and promoted CB Jack Ikegwuono from the practice squad.

Buccaneers (put S Will Allen and LB Rod Wilson on injured reserve) – The Bucs suffered two injuries to defensive players. Allen, who had been playing as an extra defensive back, suffered a thumb injury. Wilson, more of a special-teamer, suffered a shoulder injury. To replace them, Tampa re-signed LB Matt McCoy and promoted CB Derrick Roberson from the practice squad.

Redskins (put S Chris Horton on injured reserve) – Horton, who started 10 games as a rookie, started five more this season with more limited success as a sophomore. Now he will miss the second half of the season with a toe injury. To replace Horton, the Redskins brought back RB Quinton Ganther.

Giants (put LB Gerris Wilkerson on injured reserve) – Wilkerson was a backup linebacker, and, as importantly, a special-teams ace. But a wrist injury will end his season. To replace him, the Giants added CB D.J. Johnson, who will step in on some special-teams coverage units.

Bills (cut RB Xavier Omon) – The Bills thought Omon had promise, but he couldn’t find a role behind Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. So he was finally cut so that the Bills could activate WR James Hardy from the physically unable to perform list.

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Week 5 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 4 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Packers (add OT Mark Tauscher) – We detailed our thoughts on the Tauscher signing in this post. The Packers put CB Will Blackmon on injured reserve with a knee injury to make room for Tauscher.

Patriots (add LB Junior Seau) – We detailed our thoughts on the Seau signing in this post. The Patriots cut DL Terdell Sands, whom they signed a few weeks ago, to make room for Seau on the roster.

Ravens (add WR David Tyree, cut TE Tony Curtis) – The Ravens, still looking for receiver and special-teams help, added Super Bowl 42 hero Tyree. Tyree is not a great player, but he was an above-average one before his ’08 injury. If he is healthy, he can help.

Cowboys (add CB-RS Allen Rossum) – Rossum has long been a dangerous return man, but he doesn’t really help much anywhere else. That’s why the 49ers cut him, but the Cowboys are bringing him in, in search of a spark.

Buccaneers (add DE Michael Bennett and WR Yamon Figurs) – The Buccaneers need talent, and Bennett, who was cut by the Seahawks because of their offensive line numbers crunch, is an upgrade. The fact that the Steelers also put in a claim vouches for the fact that there is potential there. Figurs hasn’t made an impact as a receiver, but he has return skills that the Bucs are lacking. A terrible team like Tampa needs to churn the bottom half of its roster looking for a diamond in the rough, and that’s what they’re doing here.

Seahawks (add OT Damion McIntosh) – Seattle can’t seem to keep its left tackles healthy. After Week 5, the Seahawks lost Brandon Frye for the season with a neck injury, and they had to play with Kyle Williams even though Williams had a sprained knee. This was after Walter Jones and Sean Locklear were already sidelined. So the Seahawks added McIntosh, a veteran who started for Kansas City last year but was cut just before the season this year. At the least, he’s a serviceable fill-in until Jones and/or Locklear can return.

Colts (add PK Matt Stover) – With Adam Vinatieri likely sidelined for at least 5 games with a knee injury, the Colts needed a kicker. They went for a veteran in Stover, who has limited range but showed tremendous accuracy during his long career in Baltimore.

Titans (add CB Rod Hood) – Hood, who started the Super Bowl for the Cardinals last year, has bounced around all offseason. Now he lands in Tennessee, where the Titans hope he can do something to improve a secondary that has been atrocious. Hood isn’t a long-term answer, but he could still end up being a minor upgrade. That’s how sad things have gotten in Tennessee.

Texans (add OG Tutan Reyes) – After putting starting OG Mike Brisiel on injured reserve on injured reserve with a hurt left foot, the Texans brought in Reyes, a massive veteran who can fill in inside. Offensive line continues to be a trouble spot for the Texans, so it’ll be interesting to see if Reyes helps.

Raiders (add OT Langston Walker) – The Raiders brought back Walker, who was most recently with the Bills but who played with Oakland from 2002-06. Walker is massive and can help as a right tackle, especially in the running game, but he’s not a long-term answer.

Bills (add LB Chris Draft) – The Bills put two linebackers, starter Kawika Mitchell and Marcus Buggs, on injured reserve with knee injuries, and MLB Paul Pozluszny is still out with an injury as well. So they desperately needed linebacker help and they get it in Draft, a solid veteran who can play any LB spot in the 4-3. He’s not a big playmaker, but he can help.

Chiefs (add LB Justin Rogers) – Rogers, who spent the last two years in Dallas as a backup and special-teams guy, comes in in an effort to upgrade the Chiefs’ depth.

Subtractions

Steelers (put DE Aaron Smith on IR) – Smith hasn’t made a Pro Bowl, but he’s considered one of the league’s best 3-4 defensive ends because he’s so good against the run and can also generate a little juice on pass rushes. His absence may be as big of a blow to the Steelers front 7 as Troy Polamalu’s injury has been to the team’s secondary over the past month. With Smith out, rookie Ziggy Hood needs to step up and provide a spark in more playing time. The Steelers signed DL Ra’shon Harris from Carolina’s practice squad to fill Smith’s roster spot and to provide DL depth.

Chargers (cut S Clinton Hart) – Hart had started at safety for the Chargers for two-plus seasons, but San Diego leadership wanted to shake up a struggling D, and Hart was the first sacrificial lamb. To take his roster spot, the Chargers brought back Ian Scott, a defensive lineman who played in four games for the team last year. Scott will try to help replace Jamal Williams in the middle of the Chargers’ front line.

Colts (cut DT Ed Johnson) – Johnson, whom the Colts cut last year after his marijuana-possession arrest, came back this year and actually started the first four games. But Indy axed Johnson again, citing his on-field performance. His weight may have also been an issue, but it’s curious to see a contender cut a starter like this when there’s so little defensive-line talent available on the open market.

Bengals (cut LS Brad St. Louis) – The Bengals finally gave on St. Louis, who has had all kinds of trouble long-snapping this year. Four bad snaps in Week 5 alone led to two blocked field goals and a blocked extra point, and St. Louis’ errant snaps also cost the Bengals four other points earlier in the year. To replace St. Louis, Cincy added ex-Texan snapper Clark Harris.

Lions (put CB Eric King on IR) – King’s injured shoulder ended his year, and the injury is a blow to a Lions secondary that’s already suspect. King has been the team’s primary nickelback thus far this season, and Detroit’s subpar depth means they will have trouble replacing him.

Dolphins (put RB Patrick Cobbs on IR) – Cobbs was the Dolphins’ third running back, but he got more than the usual share of playing time for that role because he figured into the Wildcat scheme. So his knee injury is a bigger blow than it appears to be for the Dolphins. To replace Cobbs, the Dolphins promoted Kory Sheets from the practice squad.

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