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June 8, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Steelers safety Ventrone to world premiere newest Penguins pump-up video Thursday morning

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The Stanley Cup will be in town Thursday night. Penguins mania has gripped the city and its residents. Several Steelers, too.

 

 

None likely moreso, though, than Ross Ventrone.

 

 

Ventrone, a Steelers special teams standout, is a native of the area (a Chartiers Valley High School grad who walked on and spent two years at Pitt) who, predictably, is a Penguins fan.

 

 

“Oh definitely,” Ventrone said after an organized team activity session next week. “Pittsburgh everything, so…”

 

 

Ventrone put his money (or, at least, his time and an Instagram account) where his mouth was over the past month when he posted a series of humorous Penguins pump-up videos that received some national attention:

 

Game 7 tomorrow @penguins

A video posted by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on May 25, 2016 at 4:14pm PDT

 

#StanleyCup

A video posted by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on May 30, 2016 at 7:23am PDT

 

 

#StanleyCup Game 3

A video posted by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on Jun 3, 2016 at 1:52pm PDT

(You have to watch them to appreciate them).

 

 

All were edited and applied to music.

 

 

I complimented Ventrone on the “production values” of the posts (as well as lamented the generational divide of a man in his mid-30s not being able to fully appreciate or understand Instagram), but Ventrone downplayed the complexity of putting them together.

 

 

“I just think up an idea, and then we go execute it,” Ventrone said. “They kinda just come to me. “It doesn’t take too much time. Go out there once I know what I’m doing, it takes a couple minutes. And then it’s boom-boom, and that’s it.”

 

 

Ventrone credited childhood buddies Mike Walsh, Brian Braithwaite, Andrew Fiorilli for helping with the posts (and presumably co-starring in the third one).

 

 

The next post – set to make its world premiere Thursday, the day the Penguins have a chance to claim the Stanley Cup at home for the first time – has more of a celebrity videographer.

 

 

“The one I’m dropping (Thursday) morning, Game 5 – hopefully the close-out game – Landry Jones filmed that one,” Ventrone said, referring to the Steelers backup quarterback.

 

“He did a (heck) of a job. Great camera work,” Ventrone deadpanned. “So that will drop, probably (Thursday) around 10, right before practice starts. We’ve got to get the views up before the game. So we can’t wait too long.”

 

 

By “practice,” Ventrone presumably meant the Steelers’ final OTA session Thursday – but, coincidentally, the Penguins begin what could be their final morning skate of the season at that exact same time.

 

 

Ventrone, who did not give any details as to the content of Thursday’s video, said that although he’s attended several Penguins games over the years that he’s only made it to one playoff game this spring. With tickets to Thursday’s game running well into the four digits, Ventrone better have a good hook-up.

 

 

“I might end up showing up (Thursday) at the game with my rollerblades on and my helmet with a sign that says, ‘I Need Tickets,’” he said. “So if you see me down there and want to show me love with a ticket, that’s fine.”

 

 

 

 

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June 6, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Slimmer Chickillo more comfortable in Year 2 at OLB, with Steelers

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Chick

 

 

 

 

When the Steelers drafted Anthony Chickillo out of the University of Miami 13 months ago, he was listed as a 282-pound defensive end with a mane of wavy flowing hair that would creep out of the bottom of his helmet.

 

Today, the locks are gone – and so are about 30 pounds.

 

Both were of Chickillo’s preference. So was a move to outside linebacker.

 

“I felt like I should have been playing this position all along; I felt like I should have played it in college,” Chickillo said after an offseason team activity session last week.

 

His second NFL training camp just seven weeks away, Chickillo this time around feels much more comfortable.

 

With the playbook.

 

With his coaches.

 

With a confidence he fits in in the NFL.

 

With his body type and size.

 

And at his new, more natural (he says) position.

 

“Oh, I feel a lot better all the way around,” Chickillo said. “Just knowledge-wise of the system and what we do and how we do it around here, I feel a lot better.

 

“And there’s something into that, getting comfortable with your body weight and playing at the same weight for a longer period of time (rather than) getting there and having to adjust to it while you’re doing it. I feel good at my weight, I’m adjusted to it. I feel good.”

 

Chickillo gradually became one of the Steelers’ most relied-upon special teams players last season – the 70 percent of special teams snaps he played in the playoff loss at Denver trailed only Terence Garvin and Shamarko Thomas. With Garvin gone this season (he left as a free agent), opportunity exists for Chickillo – who earned his special-teams stripes with two tackles and a forced fumble during the regular-season finale at Cleveland – to seize an even more valuable role.

 

A highly-coveted recruit, Chickillo never played special teams in college. But by the end of his rookie NFL season he was on several units for the Steelers – and he came to enjoy it.

 

“It was a lot of fun,” Chickillo said. “Danny Smith, to me, is the best special teams coach there is in the NFL. I really love playing for him. He makes things (fun). He’s taught me how to play special teams in the NFL.”

 

Making an impact on defense is a tougher nut to crack. Buried as no better than fifth on the OLB positional depth chart, Chickillo played 22 defensive snaps last season – all coming in a 30-9 win against Johnny Manziel’s Browns Nov. 15 at Heinz Field when James Harrison was inactive because of a knee injury.

 

The trial didn’t have the best results – no tackles, two times flagged for penalties. But it was a taste for both Chickillo and for the Steelers to see what he can do.

 

Though the outside linebacker depth chart remains crowded (Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree split the position last season, and all return), in the not-too-distant future opportunity exists for someone.

 

Harrison is 38 and in the final year of his contract. Jones is likewise set to be a free agent this winter, and the Steelers declined a 2017 option on him. The only reinforcement brought in was Travis Feeney, a sixth-round pick who, while he has intriguing potential, likely isn’t ready to contribute immediately.

 

That means Chickillo could be an injury away from a defined role on defense. Or, if he impresses in camp and during practice and preseason games, perhaps the Steelers feel more comfortable letting Harrison and/or Jones go in 2017.

 

It’s still a longshot. But Chickillo showed flashes last season during training camp. He spent about a week as the proverbial talk of Saint Vincent College.

 

Just don’t expect Chickillo to discuss his feelings about the potential opportunities available for a Steelers outside linebacker.

 

“I don’t pay attention to that – I really am a day-by-day guy,” he said. “Just take it day-by-day and just use each day to get better.”

 

 

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June 2, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Antonio Brown ‘starstruck’ by Sidney Crosby

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Post prologue: Listen to Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and I on an OTAs edition of TribLive Radio’s Steelers Roundtable show from this morning. Click here to hear talk about DeAngelo Williams’ proclamations, Antonio-vs.-Ben, whether Will Allen is for sure done and much, much more.

 

 

AB Pens

 

 

Antonio Brown is one of Pittsburgh’s most recognizable and well-known athletes. But, in his mind, there’s at least one pro in town who easily trumps him.

 

“Sidney Crosby is the best that’s ever done it,” Brown said after a Steelers organized team activities session Thursday. “He’s a professional player, plays the game at a high level, been doing it a long time.

 

“It’s an honor to watch him play. And I have his jersey, too.”

 

Crosby, who’s helped lead the Penguins to within two games of claiming the Stanley Cup, has become quite the Steelers fan since arriving in Pittsburgh 11 years ago.

 

Brown was told that Crosby was a big fan of Brown’s and was asked if the Penguins’ captain was starstruck of Brown when he ran into him.

 

“I’m a huge fan of Sid – (so) I probably was the one who was starstruck,” Brown said.

 

“Sidney Crosby, man, has lost teeth, battled concussions – and he just always seems to overcome and continue to play. And it’s exciting to watch him play, man.”

 

Brown was one of several Steelers players who attended Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center. Ryan Shazier, Cameron Heyward and (former Steeler) Brett Keisel also were shown on the big video screen. Other Steelers accompanied some of them. Coach Mike Tomlin was there for Game 1. Many others have showed up at games.

 

“I’ve been getting more into hockey the last year three years I’ve been here,” Shazier said. “It’s really exciting; I really like it a lot.

 

“It’s just surprising how well they can control the puck and some of their shots and actually how fast they are out there. It’s amazing to me.”

 

Senquez Golson, Anthony Chickillo and Dan McCullers are among the myriad of other Steelers who have talked during OTAs about getting into the Penguins’ Cup run.

 

“I enjoy being a fan – I’m one of those teams who go to the game and you see the team win, you start to think, ‘Man, was it because of me they won?’” Brown said. “Just like any other fan.

 

“I’m just excited to be here in Pittsburgh enjoying the championship environment. The Penguins are getting the whole city excited; I’m excited and I’m honored to support everything they do.”

 

Just don’t expect Brown to take up ice hockey himself.

 

“I don’t know how my feet would do in the skates,” he said. “Probably burn by bottom on the floor. I’m not a good skater, so it would be tough for me. I might have to work on that (skating).

 

“It’s amazing what those guys do on skates,” Brown said of NHL players. “How they pound guys against the wall, how they can move, the agility and being able to control the puck is really special. It’s an honor to watch, it’s amazing.”

 

“I love everything about hockey: the physicality, the agility, the passion, the hunger to score the goal.”

 

Along with being one of the very best players in the world at their respective sports, Brown and Crosby share something else in common – their work ethic. Arguably, each has earned a reputation as being the hardest-working guy on his respective team — if not league.

 

“People don’t know what kind of work goes into being who he is,” Brown said of Crosby, acknowledging a kinship with the former “Sid the Kid” that was born 11 months before — and about 2,000 miles north up the Atlantic coast from — him.

 

“If you wanna be the best you gotta work at it. The small minute things like watching film to taking care of your body to training at a high level, those are the moments and those are the things that make him a complete player.”

 

One of the best in the world. Just like his “big fan,” Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

One last plug for the Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio. Click here.

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May 24, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: More from Le’Veon Bell on the Bengals, dirty play and his rehab from knee injury

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922bell

 

The first day of organized team activities, by its very nature, is always packed storylines – if for no other reason than the vast majority of the players haven’t talked to the media for a few months. Tied to that is the progress that any injured players who might have been injured made in their rehab over the prior 4-5 months.

 

Tuesday was no different. Ben Roethlisberger held court with the media. Maurkice Pouncey was back to work and even dropped a “I don’t know what that was for, no chance at all” when it was noted that he was placed on an IR list that could have allowed him to return last season. Alan Faneca was there. James Harrison wore a full sweatsuit on a day when the temperature approached 80 (as always).

 

Then there was Le’Veon Bell. He was back at practice, as expected, after missing the final eight games (plus playoffs) of last season. This was expected. Us media spoke to him, as expected, afterward. He said he felt good. Also expected. He said he intends to play in the season opener. Not unexpected. He said he wasn’t cleared for contact yet just as a precaution but that he “for sure” will be cleared by training camp.

 

All pretty much standard stuff.

 

But, that’s not all Bell said. Multiple times, he implied – heck, not even implied; he actually said – that some teams/players (cough, cough, Bengals/Burfict) try to take him out of the game. Injure him. And injure the other Steelers’ stars. Much of that is in the handy link you’ll go to by clicking on (touching) this paragraph.

 

But that is only part of what Bell said. The Bengals/intent-to-injure/I-have-learned-to-protect-myself stuff overshadowed his thoughts on other things, in particular his recovery from injury and his contract status. Here is more of his nine-minute session with the media after the first OTA on Tuesday—

 

 

On what it felt like to be back in a practice-like setting: “It felt amazing to just be back out here with my teammates, just being out here in practice, in the huddle. I felt good. I’m just glad to be back out here, for real.”

 

On if he was given any physical limitations by the medical staff: “No. right now I’m just doing what the coaches tell me to do. They’re trying to protect me from myself. So I’m just trying to listen to those people who are telling me what to do and taking care of my body and doing what I can.”

 

On if there is a timetable for when he can cut loose: “No, not really; just getting me back into it slowly. Right now, I feel like I can do everything. But obviously they are going to protect me from myself and really take it slow with me.”

 

On how his rehab from right knee surgery (MCL tear) was handled: “I had to take steps, a little process, throughout the course of the offseason, rather than me doing everything at once, I had to take steps, at first I had to start running, and then I started doing a little cutting, then I started doing other things like and make sure I go to rehab everyday. So it’s been a little different, but I feel like this is the strongest I have been in my lower body just because I had to do all the extra things in my legs. And I feel good.”

 

On if the fact that each of his three NFL seasons has featured a significant lower-body injury implies that he is injury-prone: “Some people are going to look at it like I’m injury-prone or whatever. (But) it’s not like I’m out here tweaking my hamstrings or spraining my ankles or stuff like that. Obviously it was just two nasty tackle that I had and even when I hurt my foot my rookie year, I felt it was just unfortunate injuries because before these last three years I never been injured in football so I feel like my luck probably – hopefully – should change this year and I’ll be on the field. Obviously nothing freaky, and I take care of my body and do the little things right and I feel like I will be OK.”

 

On if he will be cleared for contact in time for training camp: “For sure. Yes, for sure.”

 

On if notoriously-protective coach Mike Tomlin will let him partake in the contact drills: (laughs) “W e will see. Coach Tomlin is always saying he just wants to get me ready for in the stadiums when they count. So I’m pretty sure I will do some stuff with contact just so I can get hit and things like that. We will see.”

 

On a percentage he projects himself playing at for the season opener Sept. 12 at the Redskins: “I think I’ll be 100 percent. That’s what I’m anticipating, that’s my goal, so we will see where it goes.”

 

On if he will be back to his old self this time because last season following an injury-recovery he acknowledged he wasn’t: “I definitely think so. The last injury I didn’t have surgery so I just feel like.. and I didn’t rehab either, I just kind of let it happen and let it go how it went. But this year I had the surgery, I obviously had the rehab, I have been doing a lot of things so I feel like once it is actually time to go I will be 100 percent; I feel great, I’m out here with no knee brace on or anything, I’m out here with no knee sleeves and I have just been training my knee for everything it is about to go through, so when September actually gets here I will be even better than I am now. It’s kind of crazy to even think about it. I’m excited.”

 

On if there was a “turning point” in his rehab: “I think maybe about a month ago. I felt like when I was training in Miami… it used to take me a real long time when I had to get warmed  up with my knee – and then there was a point in time I felt like when I went out there for warm-ups, I just felt normal one day and I wasn’t even thinking about, ‘oh, can I do this or can I do that?’I think that’s when I just started feeling like myself and now it’s really just taking care of it and make sure I do all the little things, make sure I keep getting stronger and things like that. So I feel great.”

 

On if there’s any apprehension on his part that his repaired knee won’t be able to handle its workload: “Not really, obviously when I come back out here my first time cutting and my first time doing things you kind of think about it, it’s more mental because I know my knee is strong enough to do everything, it’s kind of mental because I haven’t done it in a long time and things like that. So I think once I get over that mental part I will be just fine. But first it is just all mental.”

 

On if there was any movement to extend his contract, which expires after the coming season ends: “We (Bell, his agent, nor the Steelers) haven’t had that discussion or anything yet. I will kind of let that thing take care of itself and see where it goes from there.”

 

On how good the Steelers offense can be this year after it led the AFC in yardage and was second in points last season (largely) without him: “I think we should be even better this year. Obviously we got playmakers all over the field and we should continue to get better. We use OTAs as a leverage point; we know where we were last year so right now we have to pick up from what we did last year and get better. Obviously, we know we’re a good offense but we have got to continue to get better – teams are going to pick up on things we do, so we’ve got to continue to detail everything.”

 

On if he has any lingering ill will over the tackle — or the reaction afterwards — by Vontaze Burfict that ended Bell’s 2015 season: “When I looked at it, it obviously looked like they were happy about it. But I obviously know teams are out to… I take the liberty that everyone just plays football just to love the game, but there are people out here who are not playing like that. People out here trying to really take people out, so obviously I know that now. I wish I wasn’t ignorant to the fact of it before, but now I just know I have to take extra precaution of, you know, getting down or protecting myself because people are (out to) take me out of the game. I’ll just make sure I take care of myself.”

 

On if the Bengals are doing these kinds of things more than other teams: “Not just Cincinnati, I’ll be aware of everybody. I feel like I have got to protect myself. I feel like a lot of teams will feel like it’s easier to take me out or AB or Ben, whatever, so we obviously have to be precautious. I didn’t think people played football like that – but it’s real. I guess people really do. So obviously have to take care of myself.”

 

 

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May 13, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: WR Severin goes from ‘How did I not (get drafted)?’ to relishing chance to ‘prove to people’ he can excel for Steelers

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CS

Canaan Severin has already scored a touchdown at Heinz Field.

 

 

 

He stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 205 pounds. He runs a 40 in less than 4.6 seconds, was a second-team all-conference honoree in a Power 5 league after a productive, highlight-reel like season, and he has impeccable character and leadership bona fides.

 

Sounds like quite the NFL draft prospect. Unless you’re Canaan Severin – then, you fly off all the draftniks radars and find yourself without a team after the seven rounds were complete late last month.

 

“For me, 11 catches for (153 yards) against Notre Dame, three touchdowns against Louisville, a one-handed catch against Miami. Go down and play Florida State, (top-five draft pick cornerback Jalen) Ramsey’s guarding me the whole game, five catches for (56) yards and a touchdown there,” Severin said, listing his résumé after a Steelers rookie minicamp practice session last week.

 

“And you sit there saying, ‘How do you not (get drafted)?’ But there was not really a buzz about me. So I just took that and was like, ‘All right,’ and I looked at the worst-case scenario and then realized, ‘OK, I can pick my options.’ So everything works out the way it’s supposed to in my eyes.”

 

By “picking his options,” Severin was realizing he could sign with any team that wanted him of his choosing if he wasn’t  going to get drafted. This is the primary reason why, in some ways, going undrafted is almost preferred to being a seventh-round pick.

 

The Steelers are hoping to reap the benefits. Although they are, at first glance, very strong at wide receiver, the future at the position is murky. After All-world Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant is suspended at least for 2016 for repeated violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Then, Markus Wheaton is a pending unrestricted free agent after the coming season. Next on the depth chart is Sammie Coates – a player who has shown immense promise, but still as of yet just one with a mere one career regular-season catch. After Coates is a player about to hit his 30s who’s better known for his special-teams prowess (Darrius Heyward-Bey) and then just players who have no professional regular-season experience.

 

What that means is that there’s a potential opening for a wide receiver – if not in 2016, then much more likely so in 2017 and ’18. Severin is just one candidate to help solve these future questions, but he’s an intriguing one.

 

Aside from the impressive height/weight and decent (for the aforementioned size) speed measurables that could raise an eyebrow is good production (96 catches, 1,337 yards, 13 touchdowns over his final two seasons) and a pair of widely-respected hands (sometimes, “hand,” as in singular) as part of a package that includes a player who needed just 3 ½ years to graduate from a good school and leadership skills that had him as a senior captain.

 

“I kind of feel prepared coming from pro-style offenses,” Severin said. “I’ve had two NFL coordinators – Steve Fairchild (Virginia’s coordinator from 2013-15, who previously worked for the Chargers) and  Bill Lazor (at Virginia in 2012, the Dolphins’ coordinator 2014-15 and now the Bengals QB coach). So it’s all just the terminology is just a little different but it’s the same concept coming from a pro-style offense though. So yeah, just go catch the ball.”

 

Severin has the same agent as former Steelers safety Ryan Clark – and that’s not a coincidence. The two also share the sickle-cell trait that can fatigue athletes more quickly and can even become life-threatening if not managed properly.

 

Clark, of course, had a long and productive NFL career and was one of the leaders on some of the best NFL defenses of the past two decades (the Steelers of 2008-2010 vintage). Severin has a long way to go to get there, but he’s got a path that began as being arguably the most prominent Steelers undrafted free agent.

 

“Not being drafted definitely puts a chip on my shoulder,” Severin said, “so I’ve just got to work to improve my whole game and prove to people that I can play in this league and make plays in this league.”

 

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May 4, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Getting to know the Steelers undrafted free agents (Part II)

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(Post prologue:  Check out Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and I in Thursday’s episode of the Steelers Roundtable on TribLive Radio. Listen via the TribLive Radio app or by, more simply and directly, by clicking on this link. We review and breakdown the Steelers’ draft).

 

 

 

If you saw the wildly popular Part I looking at half of the 10 undrafted free agents the Steelers signed in the hours after the draft ended Saturday, here are small breakdowns of the other half.

 

Looking at the past, you can expect maybe 2-3 of these 10 to appear in an NFL regular-season game, with maybe one sticking as a significant contributor. Not everyone is a James Harrison or a Willie Parker – but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a couple camp darlings who work their way into a regular-season role at some point.

 

 

DAVID REEVES, TE, Duke

What to know: Fifth-year senior made 35 starts in 53 games, catching 47 passes with seven touchdowns. Never had more than three receptions in a game, but at 6-5, 255, has NFL size.

Quotable from scouting report: “He does a better job blocking from the tight end position than from lining up at receiver.” – thedraftster.com

Chances of making the team: It’s a whole new (post-Heath Miller) world for the Steelers at tight end – but there’s enough in front of Reeves on the depth chart (Ladarius Green, Jesse James, Matt Spaeth and the intriguing Xavier Grimble) that the practice squad is his ceiling in 2016.

 

 

JAY ROME, TE, Georgia

What to know: Rome’s so good, he was signed by TWO teams! Anyway, he was a highly-coveted prospect coming out of high school who – production-wise – underachieved at Georgia (five starts, 38 catches in four seasons).

Quotable from scouting report: “Rome’s career has not met expectations… However, his NFL frame (6-6, 250) and athleticism are obvious, as he is a mismatch nightmare when he escapes down the seam, and he also has the short-area quickness to exploit second-level defenses.” – NFL.com

Chances of making the team: Barring injury, it’s likely the best Rome and Reeves can hope for this year is to scale Grimble on the depth chart and make it onto the practice squad. Rome and Grimble, at face value, appear to be clones.

 

 

QUINTON SCHOOLEY, C, North Carolina State

What to know: Schooley was a three-year starter for the Wolf Pack after spending a year in junior college. The numbers he reportedly posted in drills at his Pro Day weren’t out of line with what the interior linemen invited to the combine showed in Indianapolis.

Quotable from scouting report: “He’s been real tough… leader by example at center. He’s a guy who handles himself very professionally off the field… a father.” — N.C. State coach Dave Doeren (OK, not a scout, but the best I could find)

Chances of making the team: B.J. Finney was the only of a host of guards and centers the Steelers brought in last summer who stuck with the team. Like Finney last year, Schooley would be happy to stick on the practice squad.

 

 

CANAAN SEVERIN, WR, Virginia

What to know: Severin has good size (6-2, 205) and his reported 40 times (in the 4.5-4.6 range) aren’t terrible for a man his size. He also
CSwas productive in college (second-team all-ACC as a senior) with 95 catches for 1,325 yards and 13 touchdowns over his final 24 games.

Quotable from scouting report: “He’s super intriguing, a big body WR with good hands and he dominates the catch point.” –Draftbreakdown.com

Chances of making the team: Severin might be the most highly-regarded of all the Steelers’ undrafted free agents, having been seen by many as a legitimate “sleeper” who could have been taken on Day 3 of the draft. With Demarcus Ayers viewed more as a pure returner (at least initially), Severin will join Eli Rogers and Shakim Phillips as those jockeying to be the No. 5 receiver option – a spot that likely carries with it a practice squad designation (assuming an Ayers or a Levi Norwood makes the team as a return specialist).

 

 

DEVAUNTE SIGLER, DL, Jacksonville State

What to know: A transfer from Auburn after being kicked off the team, Sigler (6-3, 290) was the Ohio Valley Conference’s defensive player of the year in 2014. But injuries marred most of last season.

Quotable from scouting report: “Sigler couldn’t stay on the field due to various injuries the past two seasons and although he put impressive flashes on tape, he wasn’t a consistent playmaker – projects as a potential NFL back-up who can round out a rotation.” –CBS’ NFLdaftscout

Chances of making the team: A lot was made about the lack of depth along the Steelers’ defensive line last season. Like all of his undrafted rookie brethren, Sigler faces long odds. But if L.T. Walton and Caushaud Lyons don’t show they made progress heading into their second years, who knows?

 

 

 

 

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May 4, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Getting to know the Steelers undrafted free agents (Part I)

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Foster

Ramon Foster, the Steelers’ best undrafted free agent of the Tomlin tenure

 

 

The jury remains out on whether B.J. Finney or Eli Rogers can carve out an NFL career for himself… but barring that, the past two crops of Steelers undrafted free agents has largely been a dud.

 

Of the 22 players the Steelers signed immediately after the drafts in 2014 and 2015, none have appeared in an NFL regular-season game for the Steelers. Just Finney, a guard, and Rogers, a wide receiver, remain property of the Steelers. (Though one could argue that receiver Shakim Phillips also qualifies – his signing was announced 10 days following the completion of the draft last season).

 

THAT SAID… the Steelers under Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have a rich history of collecting talent immediately after the draft ends. Colbert signed an eventual starter among five of his first six drafts in Dan Kreider (2000), Chris Hoke (2001), James Harrison (2002), Willie Parker (2004) and Nate Washington (2005) – something of a remarkable achievement.

 

Since Tomlin arrived in 2007, the Steelers have unearthed seven starting-caliber players (of varying degrees) as rookies after the draft ended: Darnell Stapleton (OK, it wasn’t even a full season he started… but it was for a Super Bowl-winning team he was starting), Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Steve McLendon, Isaac Redman, Corbin Bryant (although not for the Steelers; Bryant started 10 games for Buffalo last season) and Robert Golden (pegged to start at strong safety in 2016).

 

Over the seven (after-)drafts of 2007-13, the Steelers found 15 players who contributed in some way to their team (OK, OK, I went back and forth on whether to include John Clay and his 10 carries in 2011… fine – make it 14 players. Still, that’s an average of two per year): RB Gary Russel, LS Jared Retskofsky, LB Patrick Bailey (the 2008 Steelers rookie of the year), TE Weslye Saunders, P Drew Butler, LB Adrian Robinson, G Chris Hubbard and the seven listed above.

 

Three players signed by the Steelers undrafted free agents were starters last season (McLendon, Harrison and Foster), and three project to be this season (Harrison, Foster and Golden).

 

This all brings us to the current crop of undrafted free agents the Steelers signed Saturday night following the completion of Round 7. In that group of 10 players are three defensive linemen and two players from Duke. A quick look half of at the newest Steelers (five undrafted free agents profiled today, the other five tomorrow), and their potential impacts:

 

 

JOHNNY MAXEY, DL, Mars Hill Univ.

What to know: Maxey was listed at 305 pounds by Mars Hill (but this is also the sports information department that announced he signed with the “Pittsburg” Steelers, so take their words with a grain of proverbial salt; the Steelers list him at 283) – and he reportedly has 4.9 speed in the 40.

Quotable from scouting report: “Johnny has the size, talent, and work ethic to be successful at the next level.” – Mars Hill coach Tim Clifton (OK, he’s not a scout… but it’s hard to find info on this guy he’s so far off the radar)

Chances of making the team: He has the size, and there’s a roster spot to be made by SOMEBODY on the defensive line… but, at very best, Maxey is probably more of a project whose best chance to make the 53-man roster is in 2017. Or 2018. Or never.

 

 

TYRIQ MCCORD, OLB, Miami (Fla.)

What to know: The Steelers love to stockpile edge rushers, and McCord is a high-pedigree athlete (four-star recruit) who has plenty of experience (appeared in 51 games over four years) at a big-time program. He posted 3-4 sacks each season.

Quotable from scouting report: “McCord’s stats dropped from his junior year to his senior year but he still made the big plays on tape. McCord is a durable player who has flexibility in regard to his position.” – NFLmocks.com

Chances of making the team: From the mostly-forgettable likes of Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon in recent years to the success story of Harrison in the past, the Steelers seem to always have an outside linebacker on their practice squad – although this year, that would figure to be sixth-round pick Travis Feeney’s domain.

 

 

WILL MONDAY, P, Duke

What to know: Monday was  first-, second- or third-team ACC during all four of his seasons with the Blue Devils, averaging 43.5 yards on 260 punts in 53 games. None were blocked, and 34 percent resulted in the opponent taking over inside its 20.

Quotable from scouting report: “Long­-limbed punter who showed off more consistent power in his foot earlier in his career than later. Monday can get the ball out quickly and has improved with consistency of his hang time.” – NFL.com

Chances of making the team: Normally, I’d say that incumbent Jordan Berry’s job is relatively safe… but the Tomlin’s cursed history at the position makes you wonder if the revolving door of punters continues. Monday was considered one of the top five punters in this draft class, so he presumably has a shot at making a roster.

 

 

GIORGIO NEWBERRY, DL, Florida State

What to know: It wasn’t until his fourth year on campus that the former four-star recruit made any impact on the Seminoles’ defensive line (a redshirt, a year spent at tight end and strong competition stood in his way). He never started a game on defense – but his length and pure athleticism are of NFL quality.

Quotable from scouting report: “Gives up leverage off the snap with high pads and doesn’t understand how to use his hands to shed or free himself from blockers – long-term NFL project.” – CBS’ NFLdraftscout.com

Chances of making the team: John Mitchell has his work cut out for him, but the veteran respected defensive line coach has what Tomlin would call “good clay to work with.” Newberry will need to impress just to be a practice-squad candidate.

 

 

CHRISTIAN POWELL, FB, Colorado

Christian PowellWhat to know: Recruited as a fullback, Powell three times led the Buffaloes in rushing as its featured ballcarrier… but his production slipped during each of his four seasons.

Quotable from scouting report: “Coming straight from fullback, that’s all you know to do is run downhill. I can’t let that leave my game, but at the same time trying to learn different fundamentals as a running back and develop a little more. It’s just a different game to learn, from being a blocker to being a ball carrier. Each and every year I’ve been able to develop.” – Powell on himself, courtesy of the Denver Post

Chances of making the team: The Steelers always have a fullback – and they’re never players they draft. And with Will Johnson a free agency departure, at first glance Powell has a chance to succeed him. But there’s The Roosevelt Nix Phenomenon standing in his way, making it seem to be a longshot.

 

 

We’ll break down the other five undrafted free agents tomorrow…

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April 28, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Live blog from draft night at the Steelers facility

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12:14 a.m.: Highlights from GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin comments to the media after taking Artie Burns in the first round-

  • Colbert: “He put himself as one of the top corners in this draft class. We’re really starting to see this draft class with the corners coming together… We started to get a feel this was a really strong corner class.”
  • Tomlin: “He has a lot of growth potential. We’re excited about the upsides. He’s a natural at bump corner… He’s good at the ball, he’s good with the ball down the field… He has elite speed… He can get things going for us in 2016.”
  • KC: “This is one kid that when you really started to study him, he was as natural in bump-and-run coverage as any of the corners in this draft.”
  • KC: “In the NFL right now, there are bug receivers. When you look for the corner and you can find someone with that kind of length and that kind of athleticism — and you couple that with the six interceptions (last season), that was very, very impressive.”
  • KC: “It was a really easy (pick to make). It was breaking pretty tight, quite honestly. We really felt that we had a good chance to get a corner. It was quality from top to bottom. There is still quality left at that position… We were fortunate that he made it to us.”

 

 

12:07 a. m.: Highlights from Artie Burns’ first comments as a Steeler, to the Pittsburgh media over the phone-

  • “(The Steelers) are the team I wanted to go to… Tomlin was one of the coolest coaches I met. Players wanna play for him.”
  • “I known about the Steelers defense since I was young. I’ve known the whole Steelers team since I was young. I always idolized them.”
  • On losing his mother this past year: “It was difficult at first… It hurt, but it’s just something you’ve got to deal with, and make you stronger.”
  • “The Steelers are known as a tough, bend-but-don’t-break defense — and I’m that kind of guy.”
  • On Mike Tomlin: “He’s just got so much swag to him that that’s just something you wanna have in a head coach.”

 

 

11:49 p.m.: Artie Burns college highlights-

 

 

Artie Burns high school highlights-

 

11:42 p.m.: We’ve heard from Colbert and Tomlin and are awaiting to talk to newest Steeler CB Artie Burns over the phone. Colbert talked up the depth of the secondary in this year’s draft and lauded the character, size, speed and ball skills (ACC-high 6 INTs last season) of Burns.

Highlights from the NFL.com official draft page for Burns include: “Premium athlete with long, angular build and preferred blend of size and speed… natural ball skills to flip the field… Will bait quarterbacks into trap throws… Possesses brash, cocky demeanor. Length and physicality from press can be extremely disruptive. Burst on the throw is NFL-worthy… Usually finishes when he makes contact as tackler.”

Negatives from his NFL official draft bio: “Tape isn’t his best friend. Extremely raw and undisciplined. Leggy and grabby in routes…  Turns motor off and on from game to game, and play can be lackadaisical… Would like to see him attack blockers rather than waiting for running back before disengaging.”

 

 

10:57 p.m.: The Steelers pick is in. Miami (Fla.) CB Artie Burns.

His draft profiles: CBS/NFLDraftScout, NFL, ESPN

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin at the podium now. Updates to come…

 

10:41 p.m.: A run on wide receivers has left the Steelers within striking distance of Houston CB William Jackson III being on the board — that’s a player they liked enough on tape to go out to dinner with during a visit to his Pro Day.

Now that I said that, I’m sure they’ll now go another direction with their pick (if he’s still there)…

 

10:14 p.m.: After Paulk and Adamski took a break for ribs and wings (the Penguins game was on one of the TVs in the cafe)… the Steelers’ mock first round pick in Adamski’s  mock draft was taken well before the Steelers picked.

Overall, five defensive backs were taken among the first 17 picks (including something of a surprise in Keanu Neal going at No. 17 to Atlanta).

That leaves just William Jackson III, Artie Burns, Mackensie Alexander (and, perhaps Vonn Bell) as DB’s who could possibly make sense at No. 25. Otherwise, The Streak continues…

 

9:38 p.m.: It’s of little secret that the Steelers haven’t taken a cornerback in the first round in a long, long time… And many are predicting that they will this year. But part of those predictions are based in the fact that there are up to six first-round-worthy cornerbacks (if you count Jalen Ramsey). But with Eli Apple surprisingly going to the Giants at No. 10, it has meant that three cornerbacks (if you count Ramsey as one and not a safety) are off the board over the first 11 picks. That leaves only William Jackson III, Artie Burns and Mackensie Alexander as possible CB options for the Steelers at No. 25…. with 13 picks to go to get there.

 

 

9:10 p.m.: After making a trade with the Titans, the Browns (a division rival of the Steelers, remember — and one that won’t be a laughingstock forever, so at some point Cleveland’s move indeed do affect the Steelers) now have 15 picks in this year’s draft, plus extra first- and second-rounders next year and an extra fourth-rounder the year after that…

 

 

8:44 p.m.: Ohio State players go both No. 3 and No. 4 overall. Many more will have their name called both tonight and this weekend. The NFL’s official site lists 15 players, and five (or six) could/should be drafted in the first round.

Anyway, the Cowboys taking Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott opened up the player who in my humble opinion is the best overall in this draft — FSU S/CB Jalen Ramsey – to fall to the home-state Jaguars at No. 5.

 

 

8:32: Well, any thoughts that Kaboly and Adamski were going to toss the perfect game in terms of mocking the first round are gone at Pick No. 3. The Chargers take Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa over our projected Jalen Ramsey. The first of many, many Buckeyes to have their name be called tonight and this weekend…

 

 

8:15 p.m.:  The Rams announced they had traded for the top pick in the draft on the morning of April 14. They leaked later that day that they agreed to the deal the night before but did not announce it out of respect fro Kobe Bryant’s final game. Anyway, that was approximately 21,600 minutes prior to the draft starting. They had that much time to debate — if they hadn’t already — who they were going to take. And yet they needed almost the full 10 minutes allotted tonight to make their pick: JARED GOFF.

 

 

 

7:48 p.m.: Legendary Bill Hillgrove about to go on the air live from the facility along with Steelers Nation Radio producer Ryan Tobin. You’ll notice they are watching the hockey game…

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7:42 p.m.: I’d be remiss if I didn’t get everyone ready by linking to today’s exhaustive draft coverage in the Trib.

 

 

Shameless reminder to follow Adamski, Kaboly and Paulk on Twitter.

 

 

7:19 p.m.:

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Welcome to tonight’s LIVE BLOG of NFL Draft Night here at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Media types from myriad of outlets are here (rumor had it the free meal ended at 7 p.m., after all), and so are little-seen Steelers scouts. Team general manager Kevin Colbert is dressed in a shirt and tie (he sort of laughed and turned away when I asked him if it was because he will candidly be on TV tonight for the first time). So are media relations czars Burt Lauten, Ryan Scarpino and Dom Rinelli, though that is hardly out of character for them. There’s already been some discussions among the media if the Penguins-Capitals game will make it on a TV somewhere. (It won’t). And as we’ve been reminded, this is 2016, so any hockey fans here will deal.

 

Anyway, I honestly don’t know if I should be ashamed or proud to say this… but I have never actually executed a **live blog** of an event. So bear with me. We’ll (I say, “we,” because the great Mark Kaboly is alongside) will break down some picks, provide commentary of how a particular pick or draft development might affect the Steelers, perhaps do some scene-setting of what’s going here at team headquarters (no, we’re not allowed in the draft so-called “war room” — and team official media policy bans photos of anything outside the media room or even on-the-record conversations with team personnel). But most of all, we’ll try to have some fun. So read along…

 

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April 28, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers/NFL Draft Q & A (Transcript)

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OK, thanks for participating. We will jump right into this chat/ Q&A session.

_____________________________________________________

Absolutely. Harrison just wanted to make sure his body didn’t break down preparing for the season. He still has a couple of days to go before his self-imposed six week training regimen is up, but everybody pretty much know the answer. What you need to keep an eye on is what happened last year during the spring and summer — nothing. Don’t look for Harrison to participate at all during OTAs and likely the first week or so of the preseason.

_________________________________________________________________________

I am assuming you are talking about the Steelers’ safeties and the short answer is no. Mike Mitchell had a solid and healthy year and Robert Golden is more than serviceable until they find a long-term solution. Who knows, that solution might be Shamarko Thomas? What a lot of people don’t realize is that Will Allen struggled as much as he played well a year ago. He had some stinkers of games, but also had some good ones. I do believe they will address the safety position during the second day of the draft.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Evan, I like Joseph and the Steelers like him, too. I just think 25th is just a little too soon for him and he will be long gone by the second round. As for Cash, he is an in-the-box guy who could probably help out immediately in sub-package football, but is he a long-term answer at safety? Could be, but I want more of a sure thing if I am taking somebody in the second round like Cash will likely go.

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In theory, it is a wonderful idea. Well, maybe not out of the first but I would dump down a couple picks in order to pick up another third-rounder. But there are issues doing that. First, you better be darn well sure a guy you want will be there when you fall back. And second, you got to find a dancing partner. That just may be hard to do. I am sure plenty of teams in the middle of the second would love to get up to 25, but do you want to do that and waste a potential starter by moving out of the first? Also, look at history. Colbert has moved down only once in 16 years and that was only 3 spots backs to get the Big Snack in 2001. I don’t see any movement by the Steelers on Thursday.

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No and for a pretty good reason. The Steelers don’t have a fifth-round pick and actually don’t pick until late in the sixth. Nobody worth a darn will be there then. You would have to take a QB within the first four rounds and that, to me, is just a waste. You need corner and safety help, defensive line, guard and possible wide receivers so you can toss away somebody you hope doesn’t play until 2020. Saying that, I think Cardale Jones would be a wonderful project type for the Steelers, but he will go way too early for the Steelers to even contemplate that.

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I will give you two answers here. What I would do is take Billy Jackson and pair him with Golson and you might have a decent duo. You can’t go wrong with Joseph. Billings, I believe, would be a luxury pick. Now, if this scenario plays out for the Steelers, I can easily see them taking Noah Spence. Forget the drug fails and getting kicked out of a CONFERENCE. Remember, pressure the quarterback is much more important that defending the quarterback. So, in summary — I would take the corner, the Steelers would take the OLB.

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Just was talking about that. Spence, I believe, would be very enticing to the Steelers if he is there at 25. Problem is, I don’t think he will. However, who knows with this draft. You might have 3 ho-hum QBs going into the top seven picks, which is absurd to me. I don’t think you can totally rule out an edge rusher. Although I think it is going to be a corner, but I’ve thought it was going to be a corner the past three years.

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That’s probably the starting point. Shady McCoy got 5 for $40 million last year and he is three years older the Le’Veon Bell. The five years seems like something the Steelers wouldn’t want. That would bring him to near 30 years old. I don’t know if you want to do that if you are the Steelers. But I guess we will find out soon enough.

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I don’t really recall any. I know Troy Polamalu had some concussion concerns when they drafted him. That’s the best I can do. I am assuming you are referring to Kendall Fuller and Karl Joseph. I don’t think those guys  are long-term risks that would prevent the Steelers from taking them. In reality, who cares about a couple weeks if the guys is going to play 10 years, right? Now, Jaylon Smith, that’s a different story just because you don’t know if he ever will be back to his collegiate level of play.

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Good question. What I have been told is that you would love to have three who are every day contributors out of a draft class. That’s probably on the high end. Of course, the first rounder has to be a slam-dunk, every down starter. When you do the math, that means that more than 50 percent of all picks are going to be bit players if at all. For the most part, the Steelers have been pretty good hitting on three — except for 2008, of course.

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I think they are pretty committed to taking a cornerback in the first round. So, Jackson would be the pick. I mocked Jackson to the Steelers, but it could easily be Apple as well. Billings is intriguing, but the crazy depth of DL in this draft affords them to wait a little bit to address the defensive line.

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No, not at all. They had enough faith in him to give him a shot last year. I didn’t work out, so let’s see what happens this year. Thomas is still a talented player who needs to get his head on straight in terms of the playbook. The Steelers, or any team, can’t afford to give up big plays and a mistake by a safety results in big plays. That’s why he sat last year. I think he has a shot to contribute this year. I am not rubber-stamping Golden as the starter yet.

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Nah, I don’t think you can take a chance on him that early. Somebody will. As for Jarvis Jones, I don’t anticipate them picking up his 5th year option, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to sign him. That 5th year option is $8.5 million for 2017. That is a lot of money for him. Just let the contract play out and then try to re-sign him if they want. It is a rise though. If Jones has a big year this year then he can go get some free agent money somewhere else next year. I would keep him. I would also play a little more than the Steelers have played him in the past as well.

 

OK, thanks for participating. Maybe we will do it again some time.

 

Kaboly

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April 26, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Trib’s NFL draft coverage, all in one place

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Screenshot_2016-04-26-17-28-51-1Screenshot_2016-04-26-17-28-56-1

 

 

Depending on when, exactly, you’re reading this, this year’s NFL draft is all but upon us. For many football fans, that’s akin to Christmas Eve.

 

For the first time (that I’m aware of, anyway), we’ll be live-blogging the first round from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, providing reaction about the draft and how it affects the Steelers – and from the Steelers themselves, too (or at least from Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin after their pick is made).

 

Leading into that, however, in case you missed any of the run-up, here’s a handy and comprehensive compilation of all things Trib/draft.

 

 

TRIBLIVE RADIO SHOWS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRIB DRAFT ANALYSIS/PREDICTIONS

 

 

 

 

TRIB DRAFT POSITION PREVIEWS (by Adamski) – COMPLETE WITH TOP-10 CHECKLISTS:

(Feature on Braxton Miller — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Hunter Henry — by Ralph Paulk)

 

(Feature on Nick Martin — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Jack Conlkin — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Ezekiel Elliott — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Joshua Perry — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Myles Jack — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on A’Shawn Robinson — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Christian Hackenberg — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Vernon Hargreaves — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Jalen Ramsey — Paulk)

 

 

TRIB DRAFT NEWS STORIES:

 

 

 

TRIB DRAFT FEATURES:

 

 

 

 

TRIB TRACKS THE STEELERS PRE-DRAFT VISTORS:

(Bonus: neat and informative graphical list of EVERY prospect whom reportedly met with Steelers brass, courtesy USA Today Draftwire

 

 

 

 

We’ll chat Thursday night.

 

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