My Smith/Kaepernick Manifesto

Nov 27, 2012 at 10:14 AM

There are several layers to this subject and I'm seeking to peel those back in order to offer a truly objective opinion. Let's start where it all began, with Alex Smith...

Firstly, more than anything, I just feel really awful for the guy. Sure, he's making millions but he seriously can not catch a break no matter what he does. He was rifled through a new offensive coordinator every year of his 6 year career, undermined in the locker room by Mike Nolan who questioned his manhood, got berated and benched by Singletary, was booed out of Candlestick Park with fans clamoring for David Carr (hold back the vomit if you can). He could have left SF in 2009 and 2011 but he stayed and cited "unfinished business" as the reason for his return. Then Harbaugh enters--a bona fide offensive mind that gives Smith arguably the first vote of confidence in his career (or at least the first since Norv Turner in '06). Without even being a signed QB on the roster, Smith runs his own training camp and teaches the rest of the team Harbaugh's playbook during the lockout. Then, the 2011 season rolls around and Smith continues to make strides, getting better and better each week, culminating with a playoff victory over the Saints that will go down in the history books.

The 2012 offseason commences and the Niners want to pursue Peyton Manning. Can't fault them there. When you have a chance to nab arguably the greatest QB to ever play the game (regular season that is, of course) you take your best shot. So although it may have been a bit of a kick in the face to Smith, it's more than understandable. But before I make this more of a novel and get way off topic, we'll fast forward to now.

Smith is currently having the best season of his career and is the 4th highest rated QB in the league. He continues to be efficient, smart, and minimizes turnovers. Then the concussion hits, Kaep gets his chance and shines. Smith has done absolutely nothing to lose his job and his reward for having the best season of his career is a possible benching. Just brutal. I don't care how much money you make, that's got to sting something fierce.

On to Kaepernick's background story. I was thrilled when the Niners moved up to draft him in the second round in 2011. Now remember, this was before Smith's 2011 season and I was beyond fed up with a poor QB that seemed to stick with the Niners like a bad case of (fill in the blank). I realized that with Harbaugh being locked out from the team, his hand was unfortunately forced to go with Smith. So he made the best of it and turned an awful QB into a pretty darn good one. But in my mind, that wasn't likely to happen. What was likely to happen was that Harbaugh would see like all the others that Smith was hopeless and Kaep would take over halfway through 2011. The transformation of Smith is a true testament to how insanely good Harbs is at developing QBs and I even recall saying "If he can turn Smith into a decent QB, he'll be the best coach this team has seen since Bill Walsh." He is.

Well here we are, fresh off of two extremely impressive victories in which Kaepernick was under center. It appears that everyone is on the Kaepernick bandwagon with the "sky is the limit" mentality.

So Steve, now that you've incessantly rambled about things everyone already knows, can you get back to the subject at hand and just state who the hell you think will start, who you want to start, and why?

Sure thing.

The God's honest truth is that I really don't know. I lean towards Kaepernick but it's one of those situations where you're waiting for the catch. Like that really good deal you see before you read the fine print and realize you're being ripped off.

The offense is absolutely more dynamic with Kaepernick. No longer do I sit there and watch the offense give everything it has just to eek out a first down (using all 3 downs to do it, mind you). We're seeing an offense that is effectively utilizing Manningham, Delanie Walker, and all those other weapons the Niners have and making first downs ON first down and scoring TDs on, dare I say, 1st and goal?! The kid has great poise, goes through his reads, has a CANNON of an arm, and speed that bests or rivals just about any QB in the league not named RGIII. He takes the chances that Smith won't take. He makes the downfield throws when the blitz is on. He's looked even better than I hoped for when SF moved up to take him in that 2011 draft. This is what Harbaugh and Baalke saw and that's why they moved up to get him. This is THEIR guy. Not a guy that they were forced to start due to a lockout, who performed above and beyond what they expected.

But let's temper his performance with a few key notes. Firstly, the offensive line is playing better than any squad in the NFL right now. So as good as he's looked, that's certainly a HUGE contributing factor to his success. Secondly, the defense has played 2 of their best games of the season and one could argue that the D is far more responsible for the past 2 wins than Kaep is (and they'd probably be right). On top of that, the Bears were likely caught off guard by Kaep throwing it all over the field and lacked the preparation to guard against it, while the Saints defense ranks dead last in the league. Finally, when you look at the stat sheet does it look that much different than Smith? Now I know that stats don't tell the whole story, because on the field they look extremely different. But it's just food for thought.

To close this manifesto, we'll try to tie things together. Kaep makes the offense tick the way this offense should tick. Smith, albeit in unspectacular fashion, commands the offense with great efficiency and limits mistakes as good as anyone in the league, which is exactly the type of football that is conducive to success when you have a defense like the Niners. So with pros and cons to both QB's, you look at the big picture. The playoffs, the quest to hoist the sacred Lombardi trophy.

That's where part of me leans toward Smith. Sure, he didn't have any prior playoff experience before last year's run, but he was an 8-year, hardened, grizzled vet. Kaep is essentially a second year rookie with 2 starts under his belt. I'm waiting for the game where the other foot drops, where he comes back down to Earth and makes the mistakes that you expect from a QB who has only started 2 games. And I DON'T want that game to be in the playoffs. This is the Niners prime chance. The one they squandered away on two muffed punts against the Giants last year. And while Kaep may provide them with the juice to get over that hurdle and get to the Super Bowl, he conversely could be the one that ultimately holds them back if he shows his inexperience on the big stage and tosses a multi-INT game when the 49ers can ill afford it. So the scales could tip either way. He could be the catalyst or the goat.

A tough dilemma indeed for Harbs and Roman. Long term, I think you definitely make Kaep your franchise QB and have him start next season unless Smith leads the 49ers to the promise land this year. But in the short term, it's really, really difficult to say who is the one to lead them into the 2012 postseason. Great arguments for both.

So there you have it. Fifty-five paragraphs that ultimately say nothing and everything, all at the same time. Which is indicative of the situation at hand. This is a huge turning point for Harbaugh and his staff. The right decision remains to be seen and they'll be either lauded or scrutinized for who they move forward with.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and right now, foresight is cloudy at best.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • charles
    Thanks for a fine article-you cleared up alot of my misfeelings about Alex Smith. I for one feel terrible the way he was demoted and Harbaugh lost a fan there.Alex is the man .
    Dec 5, 2012 at 12:32 PM
    Response: Thanks for reading.
  • Francesco
    Cool article. You don't have to be a coach in the NFL to realize that such a move made by JH was crazy.
    Dec 2, 2012 at 5:27 PM
    Response: Thanks. I wouldn't call the Kaepernick move "crazy" because he does provide several elements to the offense that Smith doesn't. However, with those additional benefits in mind, he conversely carries the risk of what those elements entail. Smith doesn't have those risks. So it was a difficult decision for this staff and while it certainly wasn't fair to Smith, they have to stay the course with Kaep now and hope they are right. Time will tell.
  • Renee, ReneeFXSTS
    Has everyone lost their memories. AND thier minds? I remember Alex in college. He simply did NOT lose! If you think Utah Universities are po-dunk no-wheresville; you really have lost your mind. Try to regain it by looking at highly rated current players in every position, on both sides of the ball. It WILL change you. Then look back only a few years. I'm not one to name a lot of names, so a good place to start is within the HALL OF FAME! If you've forgotten how Alex Smith's play style was handcuffed; told NOT to throw deep. Ever. If you've forgotten the 50, 70, 80-yard completions on plays he called at the line last year; you really have lost your mind, you forgot that he made those completions on a repaired torn rotator cuff ... think Drew Brees. If you can't recall these traits, plus the mental discipline and toughness necessary to survive in the NFL through it all, including crappy coaching ...if you don't recall last year's NFC picture; you are NOT a Niner, and may enjoy your overpriced beer in Dallas while that "QB with the HOT HAND" manages to lose, muff-up, and toss interception after incompletion and then cough up the ball as he grins at his adoring crowd. Go on now;GIT!
    Dec 1, 2012 at 10:48 AM
  • Wandi from Germany
    Hi, as a german I am not as intrested as you americans in statistics. Fact ist that no one , except the coaches can explain there decision. I like Alex , but i also like the way CK7 handled the team ... so there must be a longtherm plan behind it , why changing your quarterback in midseason? But then ... Kaep almost turned that game in St Louis around , while Alex is damn good in not turning the ball over that much, but when the Niners need a game maker, not a game manager imho he failed this season. Alex needs to step up when we are not the leading team ... as a friend of mine said about a soccer player from germany (my friend is american too but he is an eagles fan) : Alex is fucking invisible when we don't lead ... and thats his "Kryptonite"
    Dec 1, 2012 at 8:22 AM
  • brooke
    I have loved Alex from the start of his career with my beloved niners. He has gotten the short end of the stick, you are right. I hate what they are doing, he doesn't deserve it. He has been more then a game manager this season. Ya, Colin did good against the Bears....but he doesn't give it up to his defense after that game? PUNK....and in that game it seemed like the coach finally decided to open up the playbook for his boy. I think he is gonna choke against the Rams tomorrow....remember he could only pull out a tie when he came in that game. Anyway....Colin is a punk, I am not happy about him being the face of the Niners....I am Team Alex!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Dec 1, 2012 at 8:21 AM
  • MikeP
    The most impressive win for Alex smith this year was opening day against Green Bay(playoff like feeling to it). He went into Lambaeu field and beat the pack at home I don't know if kaepernick can do the same thing.I think if he can prove he can lead this team into the playoffs it's gotta be when they face the patriots. It will have a playoff like atmosphere, beating teams like that require taking care of the ball you can't out gun the pats you have to take care of the ball cause if you give them turnovers they will burn you . I think you go with Alex Smith into the playoffs.
    Dec 1, 2012 at 6:03 AM
  • Trajik1
    This is one of the better articles I have read on this page! I think Smith should come back after the Patriots game, so it gives him time to be fully recovered from the concussion and it also lets us see what Kaepernick is more capable of. Smith, like Gore and Davis, NEEDS to be on the field if we reach the Super Bowl. He's earned it.
    Dec 1, 2012 at 4:55 AM
    Response: Thank you!
  • onemoretime
    I cant wait until april. This selfish unrelenting delusional force that somehow managed to hold a spell over the kingdom will have to go on to search for other victims. It will be banished from the land forever. by the way Nick is correct. Can you or will you revise your comment on the "voracious Arizona defense". when is the last time they won a game.
    Nov 29, 2012 at 7:35 PM
    Response: Not sure what that ambiguous opening of your statement is referring to (presumably Smith) but regardless of their record, Arizona has a pretty stout defense. And it was all the more so when the 49ers faced them.
  • Don
    Perhaps I am still angry at Mike Nolan for picking Smith over Rodgers seven years ago but I have never thought Alex Smith was nothing more than an average NFL QB.. Everybody feels "sorry" for the guy, blaming the revolving coordinator scenario every year for sub par performance. I got news for you; he inherited another new coordinator last year and had, arguably, his best season. In two games, Kaep showed Harbaugh he can make all the throws/better throws; see the field, use his speed and manage his team well under extreme hostile conditions. He will only get better. Smith on the other hand has shown exactly what he is capable of against top NFL defenses for years and that is average performance. When the kid passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns this Sunday, the "controversy" will be a moot point..
    Nov 28, 2012 at 8:20 PM
  • Ninerdawg
    Kap is a gamer, and will be just fine! Come playoff time? Kap will step his game up, and silence the critics. Watch.
    Nov 28, 2012 at 4:48 PM
  • Nick
    Re: Re: I don't think "avoiding mistakes" would have gotten us to the Super Bowl last year. In the Saints game, Alex clearly morphed into something spectacular and put up his best performance in the last couple minutes. I don't think I've seen that type of performance from him since, but that's exactly what was needed to advance - not avoiding mistakes. Against the Giants, everyone loves to point out that we're a couple of special teams errors away from the Super Bowl, but if we had a more explosive offense, those errors don't matter. 1-15 on 3rd down is terrible and puts so much pressure on our defense and special teams. Yes, we had 2 offensive TDs, but both were on long plays to VD. If we could have strung together a long, 9 minute drive (like the one we had this last weekend), we probably don't need to count on perfect ST/Def play. And it's pretty clear that our ST is still prone to mistakes, so we can't just "avoid mistakes" on offense and hope that everything else will carry us. I think that Alex Smith probably gives us a better chance of winning a single playoff game, but Kaep's explosiveness/effectiveness gives us a better chance of winning the SB.
    Nov 28, 2012 at 11:16 AM
  • 808NinersFan
    There is a 3rd option which is to go back to what they were doing before Alex got dinged...Alex starts and plays the bulk of the game efficiently, and Kap comes in as a change of pace QB. Now that he has shown the ability to pass well it would not be a Wildcat or Tebow move to primarily run the ball. Teams would have to prep for a lot of possibilities and some big plays could come out of it. Both QB's get some satisfaction and respect and if one gets knocked out then the back up is game ready. Win-win?
    Nov 28, 2012 at 9:42 AM
  • onemoretime
    For all the noise about a.s. experince. Its not a secret that one of the most basic plays is to hit a reciever in stride. A.S expericnce doing this is lacking. He does it everynow and then. Kap does it almost always. He has shocked the football world with his talent. The time is now a lot of vets want a ring now Justin Smith and others deserve one. This is not all about A.S. A.S. threw a S.B chane away in the NFC championship game. watch the film. look for Terry Bradshaws comments. All this about his stats is misleading. 7 yrs of boo hoo hoo is asking to much. When Talent shows up it doesn't take 7 yrs and a lot of excuses. I'am overwhelmed at why A.S is still playing football. Let the Jets or whoever wants him deal with the excuses We dont deserve this abuse. Someone please report it. it. The time is now Give Kap and all the players a chance for a ring that of course includes A.S. Feel bad about some of what I said but A.S. is in the way and has been for some time.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 10:06 PM
  • Ceadderman
    @nick... I won't say that Smith was perfect in the Smurfs game but dude was set up to fail with the garbagely flat play calling. Pass Pass Pass it some more is not this team's identity. The EXACT same thing happened with the Vikings game. The Rams game Smith was concussed and marched the team down into the Red Zone and he thew the perfect Pass to Crabtree(back to using the mans name again) who prompty scored on the play. Kappy was the Backup, why was he not prepared to go into the game in that eventuality. This is a fault of both Harbaugh and Roman in that instance. No way should a Backup not be prepared to take over. Smith was dealing with a Concussion for 2 weeks. Isn't it just as safe to say that Kappy drew his Starts for that very reason? And that he did EXACTLY what a Backup is supposed to do? How many times do you have to get bit clamoring for a change when one isn't necessary(i.e. Starter replaced by Backup) before you see that the Backup probably isn't the best option? Granted it is different in a losing year but why even make a change in a WINNING year? That makes no sense. A change to make a change doesn't give your team confidence. It just doesn't.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 9:53 PM
  • Ceadderman
    Great article but let's address the Elephant in the Room... Greg Roman. Until he stops with the cute Musical QB act and calls more BALANCED Run Oriented Ball Games (you know, our bread and butter system? The one where the OLinemen get to smack people in the mouth?) to more of a 50/50 ratio, it won't matter who the Starter is. How can a QB get into a rhythm with his supporting cast if he's consistently pulled to throw a changeup over the curve or the fastball? Name ONE Loss this Season where Roman called a balanced game? Not out of necessity... oh wait did we even have a game where we had to Start throwing downfield more to stay competitive and scratch out the Win? I would have to say that there isn't one game this season where the game was so out of hand where we had to increase the Passing Load to Win the game. Not to mention that in the Losses this team has had the Defense fell on its sword too. It wasn't just Offense. We were bad in all 3 phases of the game. I don't blame Fang since the deck is stacked against a Defense from the outset. The Offensive play calling has been blah tho.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 9:45 PM
  • Paul
    It comes down to this question: who would defenses rather face: Colin or Alex? The answer is clearly Alex. The niners are the scariest team in the NFL with kaepernick under center and the rest of the league knows it. And I say this as a huge smith supporter.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 9:09 PM
  • CMSNinerman
    You can't expect a high level D like Chicago to be thrown off kilter just because they "planned for Alex" and we threw Kap in. What was it about Alex's game that they couldn't adjust to because Kap was playing? The deep pass. If we confused the Chicago defense it would be because no team we have ever faced with Alex fears that we will throw deep. Kap throws deep and completes the passes. Smith has 22 pass attempts of 20 yds in 9 games, Kap has 12 in 2 games (not counting YAC). Not hard to do the math there, opposing D's do not fear the deep ball when Alex in under center.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 4:39 PM
  • Diego
    excellent objective piece, agree with all of it
    Nov 27, 2012 at 2:45 PM
    Response: Thanks!
  • Bubba
    The thing for me is when I think back to the NFCCG loss last year, I don't remember KW's two fumbles. I remember all the 3&outs in 4th quarter with the score tied. I remember all the 3&outs in overtime. I remember screaming for a first down but only getting punt after punt. I remember a game begging to be won! But the offense let me down. Alex let me down. I know what Alex is capable of. I'm ready for Kaep to start.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 2:34 PM
  • Dan
    I think the decision is made. Alex is going to sit and has no choice to remain w/ the team for the rest of the season. He will likely collect a SB ring as a back-up QB. I hope the decision does not cost the 9ers a SB, but it could for reasons you mentioned. I think Alex will be released March 31 to free up room to re-sign Goldson and now that Bowman has been extended/given a raise it is a foregone conclusion. Best scenario is that Alex is allowed to start for the rest of the season in hopes that he is able to receive the "golden handshake" at the end of the year as an earned SB winning QB to peddle his services for next year. AlaTrent Dilfer in 2000 @ Baltimore. This is bitter sweet for me. I normally am pretty happy with a 9er victory but watching this weeks win, I was pretty subdued. I did not know how to react with Alex Smith playing so well this year and now having to watch from the sideline. Especially after watching his trials and tribulations for so long! Lastly, I don't think Kaepernick played spectacular. A good game, just not "lightning in a bottle" good!
    Nov 27, 2012 at 1:30 PM
  • Nick
    It seems like the only argument for Smith this year (and not just from you, but from most people) is his "experience" and ability to avoid huge mistakes in the playoffs. But look at how Smith did against the Giants and Seahawks this year (probably the only playoff caliber defenses we've seen this year)... 19/30 for 200 yds, 0 TD, 3 INT, 4 sacks & 14/23 for 140 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks. There's no guarantee that Smith will handle the playoffs better than Kaepernick simply because he's played in 2 playoff games before. And I also think that the playoffs is exactly when you need to be able to do more than just "avoid mistakes." That was pretty clear last year.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 1:02 PM
    Response: Excellent points and good job of pulling relevant stats. But while Smith did not perform well against SEA and NYG, he had one of his best games of the season against a voracious Arizona defense, on the road, in primetime, with first place in the NFC West on the line. And while your argument and support for Kaepernick is extremely sound, the last part of your comment is not. If last year's playoffs told us anything, it's that "avoiding mistakes" would have placed this team in the Super Bowl.
  • Reg
    Very well thought out article. I would go with Smith the reminder of the season into the playoffs. Those 2 muffs were not Smith fault. Without them, we would have been to SB last year. Smith and Kaep can fight it out over the off season and through training camp. May the best QB win.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 12:45 PM
    Response: Thanks for reading and offering up your opinion.
  • henn415
    Great article. I believe Alex should start from here on out. He has done nothing to lose his job while Kaep, if anything, just showed us that he's capable as our backup QB. Yes, he's more athletic, dynamic, and has more throwing power... Is he better than Alex? Eventually he will be, but at this point Alex gives us the best chance of winning now.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM
    Response: Thanks much for reading!
    I believe Harbaugh is going to go with Alex Smith, he is the safest choice. Of course if he were to go with Colin Kaepernick and the Niners won the Superbowl, he would be looked at as a genius in the world of football. But if Kaepernick threw three picks in the playoffs and cost us a chance to go to the Superbowl, Harbaugh would never be able to live that down. If Harbaugh starts Smith and we lose in the playoffs, Kaep starts next year and all is forgiven. If Harbaugh starts Smith and we win the Superbowl, Harbaugh will have the toughest decision of his NFL head coaching career next season. But that would not be a bad thing.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 11:56 AM
  • Steve
    Good article. I agree with the assessments of both QB's. Both are playing well, and Harbaugh has a tough choice to make. However, one thing I disagree with is your assessment of the O-line. They haven't just magically played better the last two games. It's the same O-line making the same plays/mistakes it has all season. I feel the reason they are considered a "HUGE" contributing factor all the sudden is due to the play of Kaep getting the ball out quicker, not panicking in the pocket, and using his legs to extend or make a play. A QB can make his O-line look good also. It works both ways. I'm not knocking Smith, but he has not played well in those areas, IMHO.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 11:45 AM
    Response: Absolutely. Several of Kaepernick's strengths are the areas where Smith is most criticized. I think that's a huge reason why this decision is so difficult to make.
  • Ted
    Your analysis was good, but Kaep did OK against the Saints (granted the climate he had to face). New Orleans d, though decent is not even considered mid tier and made our O mediocre. Against Chicago, the Bears were prepared for a dose of running and we paralyze them with the pass, couple that with our d physically and mentally destroying them and in effect wearing out their d, how could we lose? It is so much apparent how our passing attack looks so much more dynamic with Kaep, but if Smith is ever placed back as the starter (which I don't see happening), he needs to stop being scared and start using the players around him.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 11:35 AM
    Response: You make some very great points here. Perhaps Kaep's performance is enough to push Smith into making more big plays and taking more chances? He's shown the propensity to do so when his back is against the wall in games (see DET, NO games from 2011). Maybe now Smith will play with more reckless abandon now that his job is in jeopardy (if given the chance). Will be interesting to see...
  • mbniner
    I think that it is an easy choice to start Kaep this week against the Rams. Harbaugh has already indicated that his inclination is to go with the "hot hand" and that is certainly Kaep. If he falters, then bringing in Smith will be easier than the other way around. Mistakes by Kaep are easily explained by inexperience. If Smith starts and falters and is replaced, there will be full-fledged controversy, probably destroying Smith's confidence.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 11:33 AM
    Response: Valid points. Thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion.
  • Soleofthebay
    Best article I have read about this matter up to this point. This reminds of the troy smith debacle. Although I know Kap is 10x more talented than troy was so Im not trying to compare the two. Eventually defenses will catch up to kap thats just how the NFL works. I dont want to see that happen when the games matter most. Alex is not a gun slinger but he has made the clutch throws put us in situations to score whether it be quick score or a long drive when we need it most(seattle game). Lets not forget that many thought alex was taking that next step to being an ELITE qb before he got concussed. Also we forget the explosive games he has showed this year(Bills, Green Bay, Detroit,Arizona). Some can argue his one bad game and one sub par game the whole season can be attributed to an injury. Lets also not forget all the 4th quarter comebacks smith has provided playoffs included. Kap has never been faced with adversity yet is this the time we want to test that? Do we want defenses to start catching up at the end of the season and beginning of the playoffs when the games matter most? Kap will most likely be the future but now is not the time to hedge all our bets on potential
    Nov 27, 2012 at 11:07 AM
    Response: Thanks much for the praise. I waited out the initial storm of banter to gather my thoughts and give a comprehensive view of the situation. Like the others that have commented on this story, you bring some great thoughts to the table. There's rationale and compelling arguments for both QBs but as you have indicated here, the ultimate question is efficiency and a known commodity vs the current hot-hand and offensive upside.
  • enzo
    If truly Kaepernick is the future QB of this team, then by all means it's only Harbaugh who can assess the situation swirling around. He converted Alex Smith's career from being mediocre to efficient QB that can run a complex offense. So if he wants to go with Kap that only shows that Harbaugh trust that he can lead the team to the Superbowl just like Belichik and Walsh before him. The good thing about Kap starting now is he gets to developed properly with the help of the Defense should he falter. Should our Defense regress 180 degree next season at least he'll have all the confidence he needs to put this team in his shoulder to compensate for it. I don't think Alex is the answer if our Defense fails us. Yes last year he managed to WIN a few games for us but that's the fact that the opposing teams weren't prepared and once they managed to game plan against Alex he basically laid an egg. That's why I feel Kap should be the starter now to prepare him for the playoffs and hopefully in the Superbowl.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 10:51 AM

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