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Combine shows the Irish still have plenty of work to do

Feb 26, 2013, 3:09 PM EDT

2013 NFL Combine Getty Images

Think a 28-point defeat in the National Championship game put a little fuel in the tanks of the Fighting Irish as they prepare for 2013?

Well the NFL Combine did as well. If the annual meat market showed anything this week it’s that the Irish’s very best players still have a ways to go before they stack up apples-to-apples athletically with the elite of college football.

That doesn’t mean the 2012 Irish have anything to be ashamed of. Nor does it mean the professional careers of guys like Manti Te’o, Zeke Motta or Theo Riddick are sunk before they even begin. (Contrary to many public opinions that believe three days in shorts outweighs a collegiate career on the field.) But if you’re looking for something that’ll help push Notre Dame in these tough offseason months, it’s the realization that the Irish’s best players unequivocally need to get bigger, stronger and faster.

That’s not news to Brian Kelly.

“There’s no tricks. There’s no gimmicks,” Kelly said in the run-up to the national championship game. “It’s going to be basic fundamental football when you get to this level. I think it was just a maturation and a development of our football team to get bigger, stronger, faster, and then have a will. That’s been the process for us at Notre Dame.”

It was clear on January 7 that the Irish weren’t there yet. It’s also clear that after this week in Indianapolis, that the process continues.

In many ways, it makes Kelly and the Irish coaching staff’s accomplishments all the more impressive in 2012. Say what you want about a schedule that didn’t live up to its hefty billing, but the Irish squeezed every bit of efficiency out of last year’s football team, doing so while rebooting the offense with a redshirt freshman quarterback, a patchwork secondary, and an offensive line that had to break in two new starters with zero depth behind it.

The Combine also told us things we’ve known all along. For all the shake Theo Riddick has, he was never a burner. Braxston Cave, while physically stout, is limited athletically. Zeke Motta, someone Irish fans always thought had the size to be a linebacker, also turns out to run like one. And Manti Te’o’s excellence is much easier stated on the football field, not running around in shorts or answering off-the-field questions. While 12-0 can erase a lot of weaknesses, confirmation bias can only take you so far.

The silver lining in all of this? It appears many of the reasons Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly were also on display last season. While Kelly hasn’t turned out to be the up-tempo, spread offense innovator that many thought the Irish were getting, he was much more last season — program building his way to unprecedented heights with a team that probably wasn’t ready for primetime.

The strategy used to get there, the reliance on Tyler Eifert as a one-on-one match-up weapon, the showcasing of Theo Riddick as a dependable cog in the run game, and the usage of Manti Te’o as a one-man army in the middle of the defense proved, all likely trumped the personnel that the Irish are still committed to building.

And that personnel is improving. Turning Jamoris Slaughter, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and Zeke Motta into players that get invited to the Combine is a sign that things in South Bend are progressing. In years past, guys of that ilk — especially on an underperforming Notre Dame team — got one look from NFL scouts, and that’s at the Irish pro day.

With building blocks like Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt on defense, high end athletes like George Atkinson and DaVaris Daniels as playmakers, and an intriguing two-way threat at quarterback in Everett Golson, with some elite young talent pushing him along, there’s reason to believe that last year was more of a sign of things to come as opposed to a smoke and mirrors act.

But until then, there’s work to be done.


  1. idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    Did we really think that any of these guys would impress at that combine? i didn’t. I still love them, but i’ve also watched them play for the last four years. There aren’t any surprises here…just a chance for the national media tell us how ND isn’t the cream of the crop.

    Yesterday is a great example…I have a TV on in my office nearly all day…usually tuned in to one of the ESPN networks. It’s absolutely RIDICULOUS how many times they went live to the combine for updates on Manti Te’o.

    ….but I guess 40 updates on ND related players in one day is just the product of being irrelevant, huh Rick Reilly?

  2. larrydavid7000 - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    no $hitt. ROLL TIDE.!!!!!!”

    • ndirish10 - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      You mean PAROLE tide!!!

    • joeschu - Feb 27, 2013 at 5:23 PM

      All class.

  3. dudeacow - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    That’s one reason I’m excited about Kelly. No offense to Te’o and the gang, but they were Weis recruits. We now have guys like Tuitt who are 300 pounds and run 4.6 40s. Davaris Daniels measured last spring well against NFL prospects. Russel must run a 4.3 40. Brown too. Jaylon Smith, 4.4 40. Rashad Kinlaw, 4.3 40. Mike McGlinchey, 6′ 9″, was athletic enough to play TE in HS. Big Lou, 320, has enough endurance to play a whole game. GA3, 3rd best 100 meter time in college. Need I say more? Kelly is recruiting speed.

  4. fnc111 - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    The best athletes will always stay out west or down south. ND is fighting a huge uphill battle but with the weakened SOS I think Kelly will always have ND hovering around 9-3 and that’s a helluva lot better than the Davie/Weis years. It’s not a shock ND’s players are slow. That’s why they came to ND so they could play and not sit the bench elsewhere. I wish this delusional nature of some would stop. “Notre Dame isn’t there yet”… They never will be “there” because the SEC has the speed, weather, and more $$$. Just be glad Kelly has ND back in the top 25. That’s as good as it will get. You are setting yourself up for huge disappointment if you think ND is ever going to compete with the big dogs.

    • piratey - Feb 26, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      Are you serious right now? You’re aware, of Notre Dame’s last three recruiting classes here are a sample:
      Greg Bryant, 5* RB from Florida
      Tarean Folston, 4* RB from Florida
      Mike Heuerman, 4* TE from Florida
      Torii Hunter Jr., 4* WR from Texas
      Cole Luke, 4* CB from Arizona
      Doug Randolph, 4* LB from Virginia
      Corey Robinson, 4* WR from Texas
      Max Redfield, 5* Safety from California
      Isaac Rochell, 4* DE from Georgia
      Eddie Vanderdoes, 5* DT from California
      Davonte Neal, 5* WR from Arizonia
      George Atkinson III, 4* WR from California
      Ben Councell, 4* DE from North Carolina
      Matthew Hegarty, 4* tackle from New Mexico
      Troy Niklas, 4* Athlete from California
      Stephon Tuitt, 5* DE from Georgia

      • dudeacow - Feb 26, 2013 at 5:21 PM

        Excellent work, piratey, but some noticeable recruits absent:

        Everett Golson, 4* QB from South Carolina
        Tee Shepard, 5* CB from California (dropped out due to heart issue)
        Ronnie Stanley, 4* OL from Nevada
        CJ Prosise, 4* S from Virginia
        Keivarae Russel, 4* RB from Washington
        Durham Smythe, 4* TE from Texas
        Hunter Bivin, 4* OL from Kentucky
        Michael Deeb, 4* LB from Florida
        Big Lou, 4* DL from Florida (4 years ago, but still a Kelly recruit)

      • dickasman - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:36 PM

        Hey you forgot dingleberry and shitpherd. I bet they ran 4.4?

  5. fnc111 - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    For every Tuitt and GA3 ND has, Bama and Florida State have 25 of them. Tuitt got owned in the BCS game. Kelly got lucky last season to go 12-0 and we all saw how that realllly helped them come january, but it could get ugly next season with no QB, no RB, no TE.

    • dmac4real - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      Yea….Cause we totally want to be like Florida State….

    • piratey - Feb 26, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      No, actually you’re wrong. Alabama, through the use of grayshirting and oversigning, is afforded the ability to take chances on 3* kids with high upside without fear of “missing” on them. Look at the number of 3* kids that have been processed through Alabama.

    • mtflsmitty - Feb 26, 2013 at 9:58 PM

      I wish everyone would quit responding to this moron, fnc. Many of you will recall he did the same thing all last spring, summer, and the first four weeks of the season. Then he was silent as ND ran the table.

      He comes here for sport to see how many thumbs down he can get. He’s not trying to engage is real dialog or challenge the biased posts of fans with new insights. His arguments are predictable and unimaginative. He comes here to mess ND fans. And by responding to every moronic post he writes you all are reinforcing his efforts.

      It’s not often in adult life when one has to employ life skills that got us through grade school, so I don’t blame anyone for being out of practice. That said, IGNORE THIS JACKASS AND HE’LL FIND THAT TROLLING THIS BOARD JUST ISN’T SO MUCH FUN. He’ll go find some other way to get his jollies. DONT GIVE HIM THUMBS DOWN. WHEN YOU SEE HIS POST, SIMPLY IGNORE HIM AND MOVE TO THE NEXT ONE.

      Go IRISH!

      • ndirish10 - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:08 PM


        How would you explain dickas…?

  6. dickasman - Feb 26, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    Keith, thanks for your honest constructive criticism and being a non anus kisser. The vatican appreciates it. We were good but not where we needed to be.

  7. harvupdyke - Feb 26, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    Listed at 255, now weighing in at 240…plus the 4.8 40 time, The Hawaiian Rudy is now smaller & slower than most experts thought.

    What can we pin this on? Did he have an imaginary appetite to go along with his imaginary girlfriend? Everyone know he’s an imaginary run stopper…here comes the slide!

    Hot ass Alabama girlfriends go to Auburn.

    Roll Dam Tide

    • tony34343434 - Feb 26, 2013 at 9:07 PM

      the big difference between Bama and Notre Dame is that we are a University not a minor league football team.

      Since winning Bama players have gotten caught with PED’s, they have been arrested for felony robbery and now they are offering scholarships to 8th graders, a true track record to be proud of for sure.

      Always remember:

      These are things you will hear in your life when you get a degree from Notre Dame:

      this is a beautiful house you have
      it is an honor to work for you Sir
      Wow you graduated from Notre Dame great school
      here is another raise for the great job you are doing

      Things you will hear when graduating from Alabama:

      this is a nice double wide trailer you have
      how is your wife and your cousin the same person?
      yes i would like to have fries with that
      i will take paper not plastic

    • dickasman - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:38 PM

      We don’t let our players inhale illegal deer anus spray either but I’m thinking maybe we should?

  8. fighting69th - Feb 26, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    Lol Bama fans with their grammatical errors. Please leave.

  9. irishdodger - Feb 26, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    Te’o’s 40 time was no worse than the mighty SEC’s Kevin Minter. That said, Manti does need to post a 4.6 at his Pro Day. He’s no Patrick Willis but neither have the other recent MLB draftees.

    I’m amazed Bammers are still obsessed w/ ND almost two months later…sad. BK needs to follow in Saban’s footsteps and start getting 25-30 signees per year. Weis & Willingham put them in a deep hole w/ their 12-15 man classes…no excuse for that…it’s like self-imposed probation.

    • dickasman - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:44 PM

      He needs to she’d some weight. What da hell has he been doing down in Florida? He don’t look like he’s been doing anything but working out. I thought he would drop a ton of weight, even if to run a faster 40 for the combine but he pudged it up! Looks like he’s been spring training with the Boston redsox catchers.

      You’d think that if he ran slow, at least he’d do better at bench presses but I don’t think he impressed there either. Start juicin buddy they don’t test for that at pro day.

  10. ajw21 - Feb 26, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    irishdodger: We are at the 85 man limit for scholarships. we don’t need to gray shirt like other schools. Its a shady practice and glad we don’t do. Kelly is recruiting well and we are not there yet but we are closing the talent gap. Unlike fnc I think we will get there in 2-3 years.
    Go Irish!

  11. yllibnosredna - Feb 26, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    This is an excellent article, Keith. It may seem obvious, but it really highlights where this program needs to get to (and appears to be heading towards) to firmly entrench itself in the top tier of college football. ND still has what I would consider some over-achievers (particularly on defense) who, although they appear to be great team guys, just lack the athleticism and/or skill sets that many elite SEC teams possess. I’m referring to guys like Fox, Calabrese, Spond, and Farley (although he may continue to improve). Don’t get me wrong: These guys are all quality players (and perhaps provide great intangibles), but they just don’t appear to be the game-changers that ND needs to win consistently at the highest level. The good news (as mentioned above) is that ND has plenty of proven talent (Tuitt, Nix, Shembo, and Jackson) and up-and-coming talent (Vanderdoes, J. Smith, Redfield) to propel the program to the next level. And there’s also a great deal of potential with guys like Day, J. Jones, Okwara, Shumate, and K. Russell. Jury’s still out on I. Williams (bust thus far) and J. Grace, but it’s clear that Kelly and co. have focused on upgrading the talent on the defensive side of the ball. My only concern is getting the inside linebacker corps to a higher level. Te’o’s departure leaves a huge hole. The last two months notwithstanding, Te’o’s body of work shows a remarkable, ass-kicking football player who helped alter the trajectory of this football program for the better. Point to his less than desirable measurables and isolate one game (albeit a very important game) all you want, Te’o was an awesome college football player. Haters can go themselves.

    Now that they’ve seemingly asserted the most talented guys at the top of the QB depth chart, this coaching staff appears to be putting the right offensive personnel on the field, and it’s only going to get better with players and prospects like Golson, D. Daniels, G. Kiel, D. Neal, G. Bryant, and T. Folston.

    My overall point is that ND’s garnering of some elite talent over the past couple years (and continued recruiting at a high level) will start to produce the kind of talent that fills up the boards of the early rounds of the draft…perhaps sooner than many expect.

  12. mtflsmitty - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:13 PM

    What this article suggests most clearly to me is just what an amazing job BK and his staff are doing developing our players into competitors and a top-flight team.

    ND recruits its players from a substantially smaller pool of qualified student athletes than any other top team, save Stanford perhaps.

  13. padomer - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:20 AM

    The fact remains that we are rebuilding. Theres nothing wrong with that. In 2001 did you ever think Miami would be a doormat 10 years later? Shoot, did you ever think Alabama would be relevant again? Alabama is at the pinnacle of their run and there in no denying that. I don’t find it breaking news that Zeke Motta isn’t Ed Reed. But think, 12-0 last year with a host of inexperienced youth, and leadership from strong individuals…plus the coaching of Kelly.

    When Kelly’s guys get to the combine they will be more ready and its apparent watching the games. There are athletes on this roster, I am not concerned one bit.

    N the bama losers googling notre dame websites so they can say that they beat us is….need i say more? That impulse would never even come close to occurring to me. “ehhh just got home from work (actually prob. not) lemme blow off some steam. Gotta send check the email maybe facebook n hope you find pics of your relatives in like bikinis. Then what? hmmm…I got it!!! Ima look up ND websites and tell them that Trent Richardson is sooo much better than Theo Riddick! Brilliant!”

    Not much we can say about the reality of this given moment, Bama is on top, we got whooped and thats the reality. But the same can’t be said about you bozos reading ND articles. Get a life/wife

  14. yaketyyacc - Feb 27, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    after the national championship game, an in-law who was born and raised in Georgia and went to the University of Alabama, remarked, “Notre Dame wasn’t even a good practice game.”
    So, what could I say? You are right. and that is why Notre Dame WILL become faster and stronger.
    Notre Dame has recruited well, and, on paper looks to be competitive. This must be supplemented by intense practice and and the belief that “tomorrow, we must be better then today, never the same.”

  15. yogihilt - Feb 27, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    Mark May, please…… go away (recent Manti bashing). You are so visibly anti-ND, it’s pretty pathetic. Becoming pretty annoying I’m sure to any intelligent viewer of college football. It’s obvious Lou Holtz is a ND fan, as one of it’s greatest coaches of all time. And his insights have some intelligence, and humor. But your actions come off so lame. And please, get a voice that fits your body.

  16. ndfaithful - Feb 27, 2013 at 7:25 AM

    While I enjoyed this article, I have to say that I think it’s a bit overstated. So is the whole linkage between NFL combine results and NCAA program performance. If you go thru the position groups and look at the top 10 grades for each position group, Bama had 4 players in the top 10 among all position groups. ND had 3 players in the top 10 among all position groups. Two points:

    1. You don’t win college football games on the track or in a bench press competition.
    2. The talent discrepency isn’t as big as stated in this article.

  17. 1historian - Feb 27, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    Brian Kelly came on board in 2010 just before National Signing Day – NSD. I regard that year’s recruiting class as 1/2 Weis and 1/2 Kelly. For that reason I regard the 2010 Irish team as 7/8 Weis recruits and 1/8 Kelly recruits.
    2011 – 5/8 Weis 3/8 Kelly.
    2012 – 5/8 Kelly, 3/8 Weis

    2013 – 7/8 Kelly, 1/8/ Weis.

    The measure of a coach is what he does with what he’s got. The Irish were 12-0 regular season last year with a team that was still 3/8 Weis recruits.

    The best is yet to come – count on it.

    BTW – 184 and a wakeup!

    • stedward - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      I think it is important to note that it isn’t just the caliber of recruits that Kelly is landing over Weis but the type. There seems to be an emphasis on substance like size and athleticism, along with the usual qualities we would all want in a “Notre Dame guy.” He getting the right guys on defense and o-line and that the foundation to sustained success.

  18. 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 27, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    the best insight i read on Te’o’s speed is that he plays quick, more than he does fast. this doesn’t get measured in a 40 yd dash time, especially where it is run with no pads or helmet. coaches will tell you that there is 40 yd. fast, and then there is football fast. i’d rather have football fast, but even that can be enhanced by a player’s reaction time and instincts.

    Te’o made tons of tackles and had 7 picks because of instincts and reaction, more than because of raw speed. sure, it’s nice to have the burners on your side, but when this leads to guys to being out of position it’s not help. you just have a big fast guy who overran a play and can’t make a tackle, just like it’s no help to have blinding speed but lack an ability to make reads and sniff out the play as it develops. of course, the elite teams have guys with both instincts and ridiculous speed and ND isn’t quite there yet. but boy, you know fans and writers are starved for football when a 0.1 difference in a 40 time makes the chicken littles cry “the sky is falling” about a program’s future.

    mark may must have an incentive clause that deals with incendiary anti-ND comments, but just like bigmouth Rick Reilly, May will look like the dope that he is after Te’o demonstrates he can produce.

    • 1historian - Feb 27, 2013 at 1:31 PM

      Being an old fart who is right now awaiting another snowstorm here in the frozen tundra of northern New England and (therefore) pretty much out of touch with a lot of the stuff with which you – my younger colleagues – are in daily touch, I have just 2 questions.

      1) Who is Mark May
      2) Who gives a s..t?

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:34 PM

        he’s an a$$clown commentator on ESPN that has a routine where he and holtz take opposing sides to various debates about college football, with their most common debate being is ND good or bad? Holtz always says yes, May always says no. after Te’o ran his 40, May comes out and says any owner taking Te’o in the first round is an idiot, since he is a middle second round pick. May’s whole persona is scripted and transparent, not unlike Holtz’s, so my answer to “who gives a sh!t?” is not me. it’s more the people calling Te’o a bust before the draft that stick in my craw, but as my grandma always said “there’s no cure for stupid.”

  19. irish13pa - Feb 27, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    Not 1 ND fan needs to defend Manti… the man was gold for ND for 4 years. Who cares what a bunch of haters think, he will be a productive NFL linebacker for 10 years. Rick Reilly is an idiot who is right where he belongs… with the rest of the idiots at Espn. I think that is a requirement to get hired at espn…. question 5 in section 18 of the interview package…. “In anyway… do you like anything about the University of Notre Dame?” Lou Holtz is the only successful canidate who answered “yes”, hahahahaha
    Go Irish

  20. irishdog80 - Feb 27, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    Simply put, Kelly gets it. We lose KLM, Manti and Motta and they are each replaced with superior 5 star athletes Eddie V, Jaylon Smith and Redfield. Redfield will not run a 4.83 forty. We lack depth on both lines due to inadequate recruiting and bad luck, he gets 5 highly rated offensive linemen and continues to build depth on the d-line.

    We now have an experienced QB with qualtiy depth pushing him, an emerging shut down secondary and competition at every position on the team. We are on the edge of being truly loaded. The NCG was embarrassing, but so was an Orange Bowl beat down to Nebraska back in the early ’70s. What did ND do then? We learned, got better and Beat Bama for the real National Title… not the imaginary one Bama fans claim for that year.

    Go Irish! Beat Temple!

    • 1historian - Feb 27, 2013 at 1:34 PM

      Good post. And, to add to your reference to the beatdown by Nebraska in the early 70s, may I add that game against Texas A&M on January 1, 1988.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:35 PM

        and which i may add, was to a team lead by a quarterback named “bucky.”

      • irishdog80 - Feb 28, 2013 at 12:05 PM

        Excellent addition. You learn more from your losses than from your wins. The Irish have lots of motivation this year.

  21. padomer - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    yea this morning while watching the espn networks to fill the dead air as i clean the house…non-stop Manti bashing. Irish13, right on no need to defend Manti we all know what he is capable of from 4 years of work, while many of the so called “experts” (by that i mean the goofs on espn) are only judging bama, hoax and the forty time.

    I wish i could make these statements directly to the mindless, baseless remarks by espn but since i can’t I guess have to echo to ndnation what we all already know.

    First: MLB’s play largely within a 10-15 yard range. What does Manti do best? Read plays before the handoff is even made, then fires as if shot from a cannon into the backfield or LOS. So if Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson get clean space in the open field, apparently Manti will be reading their jerseys at 4.8 seconds per 40 yards. Who cares, MLB’s will rarely have to run 40 yards during gameplay…and if they do, most pro backs are gonzo anyway.

    Second: Do you think Urlacher, Ray Lewis and other vet MLB’s have run sub 4.8’s in the past 5 or so years? No. But they’re still all-pros. Why, because they’ve mastered the art of reading plays and film study. Which leads me to, what else does Manti do exceptionally well? Film study.

    finally Manti is exceptional in things that cannot be measured, which mean the most in projecting productivity. He’s going to enter the league with enough football knowledge of that of a 3 or 4 year vet, may have some bumps in acclimating to game speed, diff. teams, etc.but so does every rookie. Manti will never fail because he didn’t bring enough effort…ahh man cant think of his name but was key cog to a Bama NC run, high draft pick MLB draft pick to the Raiders. Straight up quit on his team cuz they were having a losing year, may have even been benched. Immeasurables. Go Irish

  22. padomer - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    Whoa Jarvis Jones numero uno on big boards as most talented? Manti had a bad bama game, most notably that poor path he took n missed tackle during that one third down. Jarves Jones got STEAMROLLED multiple times when they played bama. I watcched that closely (for obvious reasons) and he looked pitiful that game. On ice skates when getting blocked, multipleeee missed tackles and looked like he didnt belong on the field. No mention of that during draft discussions…he prly ran like a 4.6 or so I must concede he’s gunna be dominant in positional wind sprints in training camp warm-ups, so he gets a pass.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 28, 2013 at 4:49 PM

      Espn loves itself some sec.

  23. 1historian - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    4Horse –

    Ref. your 2:34 – Thanks for the info, but that’s a bit more than I needed. I don’t get ESPN (lucky me) and the question was a bit rhetorical, but I thank you nonetheless.

    Ref. your 2:35 – To quote a Bob Dylan song (Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again) “I did not know that.”

  24. buccobrigade - Feb 27, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    Are Bama fans that pathetic that they are still trolling these articles?

  25. gtizzo - Feb 27, 2013 at 11:07 PM

    Keith how dare you!!

    The combine is the biggest disgrace in sports! All this “show” does is provide agents time to get in touch with teams to discuss contracts and there clients. This nugget given to fans who have nothing else to watch so the NFL strings them alone with this crap. The world wide showcase in underwear needs to go the same way the Pro Bowl does…in the TRASH CAN!!

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