Around the NFC West: Offseason happenings

Taking an inside look at the offseason happenings of the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals


About 30 Arizona Cardinals players have been at workouts this week at Arizona State University, and center Lyle Sendlein explained some of the issues they have to deal with.

After Sendlein put seven athletic sandals on the playing field, he said, "These represent defensive players. It's like I'm a kid playing football in the backyard again."

Still, work is being done, and that's what important. Several players traveled from out of town to be there. Said second-year quarterback John Skelton, "We're doing a lot of (team-specific) stuff, while other players are sitting on their couches."

Varying numbers of players have been working out over the last month. Former Cardinals receivers coach Jerry Sullivan came from Austin, Tex., thanks to Fitzgerald, to help.

Said Sullivan, "This is good; they need the structure. These guys haven't been down this road before. They need to be in the right mind when they go to camp."

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In the week before the draft, the Cardinals made some noise about possibly trading down in the first round, but in the end that's all it was: noise.

The club was content with any of four players with the fifth overall pick: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Georgia receiver A.J. Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

It's unknown what order the team had those players in, but Peterson was the only one left on the board when the Cardinals' turn came.

They aren't complaining.

"I like the way he plays tough and physical," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "That's an attitude that we need to get better with defensively, and that certainly helps."

Whisenhunt typically doesn't hand starting jobs to rookies, but there's little doubt Peterson will be in the starting lineup when the season opens. He's a playmaker and he's tough.

Cornerback is not the team's greatest need, but Peterson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie give the Cardinals an impressive young duo.

"They know I'm bringing a fierce, competitive, confident young man," Peterson said. "I believe I'm all the way NFL-ready."

Peterson brings the added benefit of being a gifted returner. He was not only the SEC's defensive player of the year, but also the special teams player of the year.

He returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 29.1 yards on kick returns.

The Cardinals already have a talented kick returner in LaRod Stephens-Howling, but Whisenhunt would like to use him more on offense in 2011. To give him rest, Peterson could take over.

Peterson also could eventually have a role as a punt returner.

"I think he could line up today and be a kick returner in the NFL," Whisenhunt said, "and be one of the best ones. As a punt returner, he certainly has the skill-set to do it, but we obviously want to see him do it."

At 219 pounds, Peterson is big for a cornerback, and some draft analysts think he might one day move to safety. But Peterson runs the 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds and impressed the Cardinals with his ability to play the ball.

"He's fast, he's talented," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "One of the great things is when you watch him on film, he doesn't panic. You see some guys panic at the ball, bat it down. When the ball is in there, you see a subtle shift from 'I'm a DB to I'm a receiver' and go get it. Some guys can't do that."

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The Cardinals didn't ignore their needs in the 2011 draft, but they certainly didn't make them a priority.

They waited until the fourth round to take a pass rusher. They didn't select a quarterback or an offensive lineman. They took a running back in the second round, even though they are deep at that position, and they took a fullback in the fifth round, which was a surprise.

In almost every instance, the Cardinals simply took the best player on their board. And in fairness to them, only time will tell if they made good decisions.

Running back Ryan Williams, the second-round pick, was dynamic as a freshman but was banged up last year. The team took him in the second round despite having some of the top names at tight end and outside linebacker available to them.

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Guard Alan Faneca, who made the Pro Bowl nine times in his career, has retired, according to ESPN.

In a statement sent from Faneca's agent to reporter Adam Schefter, Faneca said, "After a lot of thought I am announcing my retirement from professional football. Playing in the NFL has been a childhood dream come true. Thirteen years later I have decided that it is time to move on."

A first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998, Faneca played 10 seasons with the Steelers, two with the New York Jets and the 2010 season with the Arizona Cardinals.

In those 13 seasons, Faneca missed just two games.

After revealing he was retiring this week, Faneca spoke about the decision on SiriusXM NFL radio.

"The first thing, when you start to talking about, seriously talking about, retirement I was like, am I allowed to quit playing football?" Faneca told. "I mean, I've been playing football since fourth grade, every fall lacing up the cleats and putting on the helmet and shoulder pads. It's like, are you even allowed to think about not playing football, because you've been doing it for so long?"

Faneca said the toughest experience came when he left the Steelers after 10 seasons.

He said, "It hurt to leave, I'll say that much. It hurt to leave. I did not want to leave Pittsburgh. I had spent 10 years there and had a lot invested in the organization, enjoyed playing for it, had a lot of fun. I walked off that field and sat in my locker and I bawled for about 10 minutes after that last game when we lost to Jacksonville in the playoffs.

Rex Hadnot is expected to be the replacement for Faneca.

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Prior to the draft, there was persistent speculation the Cardinals would sign quarterback Marc Bulger once free agency begins. Now, speculation is heavy they will be in the market for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb.

One thing is clear: the Cardinals will do something. Said general manager Rod Graves, "With respect to the quarterback question, which continually arises, we've decided as an organization that we are going to be aggressive. "We are expecting at some point, or believing, that we will have a free-agency period, an opportunity to discuss trades, and we are looking at those avenues."

Derek Anderson isn't back and the other quarterbacks on the roster are John Skelton, Max Hall and Richard Bartel. When asked if he was comfortable with Skelton as a starter or backup, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "After you go 5-11, I'm not comfortable with anybody we had playing that position. You have to weigh your opportunities in the draft against other opportunities. It's a complete process. It's not an isolated process."

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Whisenhunt was in a good mood after the team took Texas linebacker Sam Acho in the fifth round.

"We are petitioning the NFL to let Sam wear No. 5 so he can be Acho Cinco," Whisenhunt quipped.

General manager Rod Graves, sitting next to Whisenhunt when the coach said that, piped in: "I wasn't a part of that."

Acho, the fourth-round pick, has graduated from Texas with a business degree and won an award recognizing him as the nation's top student athlete. He thinks his intelligence "helps me immensely" on the field. "You know, being a smart football player, 90 percent of the game is mental, so you have to be able to understand plays, understand defenses, understand other teams' offenses and know how to react within a defense."

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Arizona and Tampa Bay have been named the finalists to host the 2015 Super Bowl, the NFL announced.

University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. played host to the Super Bowl in 2008, while Tampa Bay had the game the following year. Tampa has been the site of four previous Super Bowls.

The next three Super Bowls are scheduled to be played in Indianapolis, New York/New Jersey and New Orleans.

"We are delighted to receive the terrific news that Arizona is one of two finalists for the 2015 Super Bowl," Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee chairman Mike Kennedy said in a statement. "As I have always said, we are in the Super Bowl business and believe we have the best facilities and most hospitable venue in the country."

It's a reversal for the Arizona committee, which pulled out of the running for the 2014 game, citing the economic downturn.

The two final cities must submit a formal bid in time for the owners' meetings in October.

"We're going to put together a very competitive bid," Paul Catoe, president of Tampa Bay & Company," told the Tampa Tribune. "We look forward to the battle.


St. Louis Rams


He doesn't turn 21 until May 18 after entering the NFL draft with eligibility remaining. He didn't play during his senior season at North Carolina because of a violation of NCAA rules.

Finally, he has been playing since his senior year in high school with a benign brain tumor that is checked out every six months.

Don't accuse Rams general manager Billy Devaney of making safe picks anymore.

Devaney and the Rams made all the work they did on North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn pay off when they made him the 14th pick in the draft.

Said Devaney, "We certainly spent a lot of time evaluating Robert Quinn, but as we got closer to the draft, we thought it would be great if he was there. We didn't really think there would be much of a chance to be there at 14. We had a good group of guys right up to the end, a pool of players that we would have been happy with. It was kind of like (Rodger) Saffold was last year, quite honestly. The grade we had on Quinn was significantly higher than the other players in the pool, so it wound up being a really easy decision."

Quinn was one of the 19 players that visited the team recently and both Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo said he made a strong impact on everyone.

"Everybody really liked him," Devaney said. "He made a great impression with the people in the building and it just seems like a real good fit, so we're thrilled to have the guy."

While Spagnuolo has a defensive background, when he was asked about his desire to pick a pass rusher, he said, "We all know that this league ... everybody does. He was one of those guys that fell in that group. He's a great kid. Like Billy said, we had him two weeks ago and we kind of meshed pretty well, so we were very fortunate when we saw that he was there."

The tumor, which is the size of about a dime, was discovered during his senior year in high school when he was acting strange and in one incident made a wrong turn while driving home. The tumor was blocking the spinal cavity and fluid would build up causing swelling in the brain.

Surgery to remove the tumor was ruled out because it was too close to the spinal column.

Said Devaney, "Obviously, our doctors spent a lot of time researching and talking to experts and talking to people at Chapel Hill. He's never had any problem when he was at North Carolina. They discovered this when he was in high school and he's played with it and our doctors, as we called around the league, the majority of the teams were comfortable with his condition also."

He is checked every six months to ensure there has been no accumulation of fluid.

Meanwhile, Quinn and two teammates were suspended for the 2010 season for receiving improper benefits from an agent.

In Quinn's case, the NCAA said he received two diamond watches, a pair of matching earrings and travel to Miami worth more than $5,600. He also initially lied to NCAA investigators.

Said Spagnuolo, "He did make a mistake. All of the research, everybody you talked to, it was out of character for him. I sat down with him, of course we talked about that. I felt very comfortable with the response. This is a kid that's from a great family and a quality upbringing. He's a quality guy there. We all make mistakes, he made one. He knows he's paid for it a little and he's ready to move on."

Asked if there were additional background checks necessary, Devaney said. "You really didn't have to. Once you started delving into the kid, you found out exactly what happened. Like Steve said, it was a mistake. He fessed up to it. Honestly, when you're around this guy, you'll see what kind of guy he is. He's the furthest thing from a criminal, thug, bad kid, nothing like that at all. He made a rookie mistake, a dumb college mistake, and he paid the price for it."

Spagnuolo wanted to talk mostly about what Quinn is capable of doing on the field.

Noting his ability as a pass rusher, Spagnuolo said, "Like all these young guys that are speed guys, that's kind of what they've made their name on. He's going to have to learn how to be a six-technique and hold up against the run. There are some pretty good tight ends in the league.

"But he's got a good coach coaching him (defensive line coach) Brendan Daly. I think he's got guys around him, especially guys like (defensive end) James Hall who has been in the league a long time and can help him out. I'm just anxious to see him grow as a football player."

Asked about knocking the rust off after missing last season, Spagnuolo said, "It's going to take a little while. I think any young guy takes a little while, depending on the position. But I think we're fortunate in that we do have some defensive ends that can help him out. He's got a little bit of time and when he's ready to go, he'll be thrown in there. But we just think the quality of the player was ... we were very fortunate to get."

The Rams were also impressed that after the suspension, Quinn stayed around the team while his suspended teammates didn't.

"He was at Chapel Hill, and that was one of the things that came back when we talked to the people there," Devaney said. "There were some guys there that fell into the same category that they really didn't see. Robert was one that was in the weight room every day. They said the guy loves football. He's passionate about football. He wants to be a great player, and he stayed around the program the whole year."

Finally, Devaney joked that Quinn is the second consecutive first-round pick the Rams have made that barely played their final college season. Quarterback Sam Bradford missed most of his final season at Oklahoma because of a shoulder injury.

He said, "I promise at one point, if we're here long enough, we're going to take a player in the first round that plays their current year in college. It worked out last year, it didn't really seem to affect that guy, so we don't expect it to affect this guy."

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There were two distinct themes evident in the variety of players the Rams selected over the three days of the this year's draft.

One was simply a continuation of the type of players that have been identified since Spagnuolo was hired as head coach in 2009.

Spagnuolo has talked often of wanting smart, tough and passionate players that care about winning.

Leadership, too," Spagnuolo said after the team had picked its eight players. "We put a high price on that."

Several of the players were team captains. Read any of the draft analysts, and most of the additions were described as tough and competitive. It is how the roster has been built.

The other intent was acquiring weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford and finding the kind of players new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels prefers. That was the clear in rounds two through four when the Rams selected tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas.

All were productive and versatile and should be able to help McDaniels as he spreads the field and tries to take advantage of mismatches.

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After the Rams selected safety Jermale Hines, coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney joked about adding another Ohio State player to the roster.

Speaking of Buckeye James Laurinaitis, the Rams' middle linebacker, Spagnuolo said, "I didn't want to listen to him yell at me because we didn't take an Ohio State guy, right?"

Said Devaney, "We started panicking a little bit. We realized it was getting late in the day and we hadn't added a Buckeye to the defense, so we thought we'd better not waste anymore time."

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In the fifth round, the Rams traded with Atlanta and moved down 13 spots while picking up a seventh-round choice.

Asked why the Rams weren't able to get a sixth-round choice, in a round they didn't have a pick, Devaney said, "In kind of the history of the draft, once you get into the fifth round, fifth-, sixth- , seventh-round guys making the team, it's not that great a difference from fifth rounders to seventh rounders. So if you can, in our mind, stockpile some extra picks, you're kind of playing the odds of hitting on a couple of guys.

"We didn't move back that far. It just dictated, we weren't going to get a sixth-round pick. The value, the compensation, didn't come close to being a sixth-round pick. The seventh-round pick was exactly the value of that trade."

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The draft ended without the Rams adding more depth b behind running back Steven Jackson.

Said Spagnuolo, "That's been in the discussion, and then you sit there and say, 'OK, here's where we're at. Which one do we want to take now?' You can't get them, whatever the 'needs' are, if somebody has a number on them, it's hard to get them all filled in a draft. That's why you have free agency and you have trades. I know Billy and the staff and everybody is doing their best job to get good football players."

Said Devaney, "Hopefully we get to the point - I think we are - we're not that far off that we go into a draft and we can be more position specific. We still have areas that we have to fill, and we're not going to do it all in seven rounds of a draft. That's just the reality of it. Fortunately, we're not kicking off next Sunday. We have whatever needs that aren't filled these next couple rounds and whatever we don't get in this draft, there's other ways to go about filling those needs, and we still realize what they are and what we have to do."

Asked if they hoped to get a running back in the draft, Devaney said, "No, we never really said we have to. If it happened, it happened. It was probably close a couple of times and we didn't force it, like, 'Gosh, we better reach for this guy because we have to have a running back.' There were running backs that we were thinking about taking and they went before our next pick came up. But we didn't react by saying, 'OK, we lost the back. Now we've got to drop down in value in this round and take a back no matter what if he doesn't warrant going there.' It didn't work out."

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Cornerback Mikail Baker and Rams tackle Jason Smith were teammates at Baylor.

Asked about their relationship, Baker said, "Me and Jason have been playing for a lot of years, before we even got to Baylor. We were both raised in Dallas and we were in the same district for four years. I mean for three years, I played against him. He played for W.T. White and I played for Skyline, so I've known Jason for a long time.

"He also is a converted player. When I first got there, we were both on the offensive side of the ball. He played tight end, I played receiver, but Jason couldn't catch a cold so that's why he played tackle."

Baker was switched from receiver to cornerback during his career at Baylor.


Seattle Seahawks


Seattle Seahawks offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable got his man in the opening round of this year's draft.

Cable was looking for another anchor for an offensive line that had 10 different starting offensive line combinations in 2010 to pair with the team's No. 6 overall selection last year, left tackle Russell Okung.

And he found one in Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter, whom Seattle selected with the No. 25 overall pick.
Projected as a second-round prospect by most draft analysts, the Seahawks selected Carpenter over other more highly-rated offensive tackle prospects on the board – including Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod – because they believe the Alabama prospect will add an element of aggressiveness and nastiness to the offensive line, having been groomed under the demanding Nick Saban for the Crimson Tide.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said that Carpenter is expected to start at right tackle Day 1 for the Seahawks.

""This guy's a road grader," Carroll said. "He's a guy who comes off the football with great leverage. His feet are flying. He wants to bury you to demonstrate the attitude, the style and the toughness that he plays with.

"And the fact that he's versatile, that's another element that adds to it. He fits the way we want to bring our program along."

General manager John Schneider said the team had a chance to move down. The team worked three potential deals, with two falling away and one on the table that they passed on.

Schneider had said before the draft that he would have liked to trade down out of the No. 25 overall pick in order to pick up more picks later in the draft.

At 6-4, 321 pounds, Carpenter has the versatility to play both tackle and guard. He initially accepted an offer to Iowa State but did not qualify academically, and the Cyclones sent him to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he played two seasons. Carpenter then transferred to Alabama, where he started immediately filling in at left tackle, starting 27 games for the Crimson Tide and earning All-SEC honors from the coaches his senior season.

Carpenter helped pave the way for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who was selected three picks after him at No. 28 to New Orleans.

"I'm mentally tough," Carpenter said. "I just play hard. I do my best to get the job done, and I know that football is a tough sport. So that's what I do."

Some questioned Seattle selecting Carpenter with Carimi and Sherrod still on the board, but Schneider said that Carpenter was the right pick.

"I would say to the fans that they should take reassurance in the fact that we've been busting out tail since last May covering this guy, and that we spent countless hours probably the last, eight weekends in a row just evaluating this thing, and this guy's never changed.

Cable had an interesting response when told that draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network described Carpenter as a "finesse tackle."

"I wouldn't have drafted him if he was finesse," he said. "That's not my style. ... I didn't see anything that deterred me along the way, and the more you looked at his background and really did your research on the guy, it just kept coming up that this is right for what we're trying to do."

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Coming into this year's draft, the Seahawks wanted to get bigger and more physical along the offensive line and faster defensively.

Carroll appeared to accomplish those tasks with his nine picks over the draft weekend.

Seattle used its early draft picks to shore up deficiencies in the offensive line, selecting Alabama offensive tackle James Carpenter No. 25 overall, and then trading down from the team's No. 57 overall pick with Detroit to the third round, and picking up a fourth-round pick in the process.

The Seahawks used Detroit's third-round pick at No. 75 overall to select Wisconsin offensive guard John Moffitt. Both Moffitt and Carpenter are projected to be Seattle's Day 1 starters at right guard and right tackle.

Seattle switched to the defensive side of the ball during the final day of the draft. Seattle drafted outside linebacker K.J. Wright of Mississippi State (fourth round) and Malcolm Smith of Southern California (seventh round), big cover corners in Stanford's Richard Sherman (fifth round) and Clemson's Byron Maxwell (sixth round), and Louisiana State defensive end Lazarius "Pep" Levingston in the seventh round.

Seattle's most surprising pick was drafting Georgia receiver Kris Durham. Projected by some draft analysts as an undrafted free agent, the Seahawks took Durham in the fourth round, and see the 6-5, 216 pounder developing into a solid pro behind current starter at split end Mike Williams.

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Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said he was a little miffed when the team distributed playbooks during the one-day lifting of the lockout.

Never mind that Hasselbeck is unsigned. He told 710 ESPN Radio in Seattle, "I didn't get one. It definitely hurt my feelings, but it's alright because all my teammates gave me theirs. So it worked out. It worked out fine."

It remains to be seen whether talks for a new contract will work out fine.

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Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane wonders what his future is with the team.

Mebane has four accrued seasons, which would make him restricted free agent if the league eventually plays the 2011 season under last season's rules. He was tendered by the team before the lockout, but at the lowest level.

"I feel like I wasn't in their plans," he told the Tacoma News Tribune. "And I feel like I have that right to think that because I got a third-round tender. If they really wanted me, they had plenty of time to do what they had to do. Me personally, from my experience, I don't think I was in their plans. I would love to come back here, but I don't know what their plans are."

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Many draft projections had the Seahawks selecting a quarterback with their first-round pick, the 25th choice in the round.

But the Seahawks didn't take a quarterback there, and didn't select one in the entire draft.

Carroll explained the team's reasoning while speaking to a regional convention of Associated Press sports editors.

Said Carroll, referring to where the team is at this time, "We didn't think we could afford to yet."

In noting that their first two picks were tackle James Carpenter in the first round and guard John Moffitt in the third, Carroll said, "You saw us go after a couple guys that were offensive linemen, which is an area that -- without that -- the quarterback can't play."

Previously, Carroll said, "We're happy with Charlie (Whitehurst), and hoping he's going to flourish and blossom and all of that. He's a guy in my mind I'm not feeling like we missed out on a quarterback opportunity because Charlie's growing with us.

"He's just getting started to me," Carroll went on. "I don't care how long he's been around; he's only been able to start a couple times. So he's just a young guy proving himself, and he's going to show us in time where he fits."

Schneider said that the team is prepared to move forward and fill the need for more depth at quarterback through free agency or trade, which includes the possibility of bringing back Matt Hasselbeck.

"We had a plan going in, and we still have our plan," Schneider said. "We just can't execute that plan right now."

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The Los Angeles Daily News reported that Carroll has spoken to quarterback Matt Leinart about the possibility of Leinart signing with the team.

Leinart played for Carroll at Southern Cal and ended the 2010 season with the Houston Texans. He ended up with the Texans after being released by the Arizona Cardinals.

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The Seahawks only made one trade during the draft, but it helped the team land seven players in the final three rounds of the draft.

Seattle was scheduled to pick at No. 57 overall in the second round, but the Seahawks traded back with Detroit, giving up the second-round pick, along with a fifth rounder (157th overall) and a seventh rounder, in exchange for a third-round pick at No. 75, a fourth rounder (107), a fifth (154) and a seventh-round pick (205).

Put simply, Seattle traded a second-round pick for Detroit's third and fourth-round picks, and swapped spots to move up in the fifth and seventh-rounds.

So the Seahawks had seven picks in the final three rounds of the draft, including the second and 10th pick of the opening round of the final day of the draft.

"We take a lot of pride and we spend a lot of time working on the fifth round through the free agents," Schneider said. "That's really where the core of your team can come from. It's pretty exciting to talk about the first rounders - there's so much emphasis on that, and that's great, and they are very important picks. But the teams that are most successful consistently in this league do a great job in the bottom half of drafts."

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Schneider admitted the fact that because Seattle only drafted one defensive lineman, it created a bit more urgency to bring defensive tackle Brandon Mebane back, or finding more depth through trade of free agency.

The team placed a third-round tender on the Cal product, and he could be a restricted or unrestricted free agent depending on what happens in the league's labor dispute.

"We'd like to have Brandon back anyway," Schneider said. "So, it probably does to a certain extent. I'd be lying if I told you any different. But again, we're not a team that's going to panic. We're going to kind of plod through it, and see what we can accomplish."



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