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Ear to the Ground

"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)

"Winning is our business" - Bill Parcells (motto for Cowboys 2005 season)

The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of four sections : Team Reports, a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter, an In-Depth Profile and a strategy section called Cracking the Code. The team reports will be covered on a rotation (ARI - KC, MIA - WAS) every other week. The events that wash over the IDP Dynasty world and alter its landscape move at a slower rhythm and tempo and according to longer cycles than redraft leagues, making weekly coverage superfluous. IDP focus will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S... exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. FBG IDP content is complementary and interlocking. Upgrades/Downgrades and Strong/Weak Plays articles will by their nature see new names bubble up to the surface from week to week. Ear to the Ground will identify key players early on and can be thought of as a watch list for the whole season as it unfolds.



ATLANTA - The Falcons lead the NFL in sacks (31), led by the peerless interior pass rushing attack of DT Rod Coleman... he is #4 among DL in FBG scoring, and the only DT among the top 10 DL besides the Jaguars manchild, John "Hendo" Henderson at #9 (the Redskins Cornelius "and Dr. Zaius" Griffin is #13). DE Patrick Kerney is just outside the top 5 in the NFL in sacks in the past 4+ seasons since 2001. It is fortunate that Demorrio Williams and Keith Brooking are playing well, as ATL has been hammered in the middle... first losing good looking rookie Jordan Beck (2004 Buck Buchanan winner from SLO... LB "factory" Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) than prized FA add and former Raven Ed Hartwell for the year to injured reserve. On the downside, the "Deuce-less" and seeminly toothless Saints lit up the Falcons with 211 combined rush yards by the immortal RB duo of Antwoin Smith and Aaron Stecker. HC Mora responded to the big loss of Hartwell by shuffling the LB corp, sliding WLB Brooking back to his former MLB position (where he put up monster, Pro Bowl numbers three seasons prior to 2004)... he is currently #8 among LBs in FBG scoring, with Williams at #14. ETTG has exhorted ATL to see what the cat-quick SLB Williams could do from his more natural WLB position for a while now, and another rookie LB, Michael Boley gets the first shot at SLB. The LB corp, contingent on the development of Boley, should begin to mesh as they get accustomed to their roles and familiar with their assignments and responsibilities. The rookie made a massive impact with a FF scooped up for a 66 yard TD return by CB DeAngelo Hall and the blocked kick that led to the aforementioned 59 yard (to borrow one of the best "Berman-isms" ever) Demorrializer. Speaking of Hall, with 3 INTs (among league leaders) and rock solid 30 tackles he has zoomed all the way to #1 among DBs in the FBG scoring system.

CAROLINA - Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year candidate Julius Peppers finally got into the sack column. He seems to have regressed since last season when the light appeared to have come on for this physical and athletic specimen, when he began to routinely dispatch double team blocks.

CHICAGO - The Bears have backed into a first place tie with the Lions at 2-3 after a 28-3 dismantling of a possibly distracted "Love Boat" crew (they put the perp in purple and brought new meaning to the moniker "Purple People Eaters"), who along with the Packers are simultaneously bringing up the rear with a 1-4 record and yet merely one game out first in the brutal Norris division. The NFC North is the only division to not even have one representative with a better than .500 record (in fact, except for the NFC West, every other division has at least TWO teams that are .500 are better... the NFC East is the only division with all four teams above .500 and the NFC South sports three teams above the .500 watershed mark). Though the Colts have (deservedly) been garnering a lot of national attention for their ridiculous PA total, don't look now but the Bears are quietly just five points back (62). Chi-town has given up only 1 TD in the red zone all season, so far... easily the best in the NFL in that category. Pro Bowl MLB Brian Uhrlacher has looked sensational (when healthy) in HC Lovie Smith's hybrid Cover Two (he is a Dungy protege and disciple of his system/scheme) since he installed it in 2004. The former college safety and possibly the only MLB in the NFL capable of a 360 windmill dunk, he is playing fast and seems fully recovered from the hamstring injury that lingered through much of last season... he leads all non-DL in the league in sacks (6). Stud WLB Lance Briggs has nearly as many tackles as his more recognized MLB counterpart (as well as 2 sacks), and they comprise one of the most athletic, talented and under-rated one-two punches at LB around. SS Mike Brown and CB Charles Tillman are #6 and #7 among DBs in FBG scoring... they have 33 and 31 tackles respectively, and each have two INTs (even more impressively accomplished in just five games).

CINCINNATI - MLB Odell Thurman has risen to the top of the Pro Football Weekly Rookie of the Year Meter... overall, even surpassing Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who has been injured & either ineffective or inactive for the past three weeks. The ETTG prohibitive favorite to have a Jonathan Vilma-like impact and win the 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year is also tops among rookie LBs, poised on the threshold of #10 LB status in FBG scoring. The former Georgia star looks the part. Aside from outstanding athleticism and instincts for the position, he exudes and radiates supreme confidence, leads by example and is as serious as a heart attack. An extremely impressive early season line of 26-8, 2 INTs & 2 FFs was punctuated with the first TD of his career (might not be his last, as he had a long INT return for a TD as a Bulldog... he is a quick-twitch athlete that gets to top speed in a few strides and is tough to catch from behind once he gets rolling) on an INT return that turned the tide of last weeks game against the Titans. It is hard to imagine a smoother segueway from collegiate star to NFL rookie sensation. Thurman is a natural and has the work ethic, passion for the game and desire to be a great one... he has future Pro Bowler written all over him. The brilliant second rounder has keyed a rejuvenated defense that has been instrumental in helping the team to a 5-1 AFC North lead. The anti-Bungles have come up huge in takeaways and are #1 in that stat (21)... coupled with the second fewest turnovers (5), that is a recipe for a league best turnover differential (+16).

CLEVELAND - ILB Andra Davis is #10 among LBs in FBG scoring, but would be doing even better on a prorated basis... he is the only LB in the top 10 other than #1 Zach Thomas to flash so much production in just five games. While admittedly not a physical specimen with freakish measurables, he possesses the prized LB traits of instinctiveness, run/pass read and recognition skills, a great first step (he is usually moving in the right direction and rarely takes false steps), the ability to sift through traffic, find the ball carrier, break down and wrap up... once he gets his paws on the ball carrier, the play is usually over. Like a lot of young LBs, Davis still is working on expanding his repertoire of moves to get off blocks, but has made strides in this area. SS Chris Crocker doesn't possess prototypical size for his position, but he has nice versatility... he can run, hit and cover. The Marshall alumnus (same with Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich and Darrius Watts) played FS, SS and CB in college and was ranked third in the nation in the 110 m high hurdles as a prep (Julius Jones set the VA state record in the 300 m hurdles).

DALLAS - The Cowboys are executing well on defense... the Giants only converted one third down opportunity in the entire game last week. Dallas is tied for second in the league in sacks (20). Legit DROY candidate DeMarcus Ware is pacing the team with four... in consecutive games. Good looking Browns import CB Anthony Henry (#3) and SS Roy Williams (#5) are both in the top 5 among DBs in the FBG scoring system. The defense has risen to #8 overall in the NFL, and Parcells should be happy that he got to shop for the groceries as well as cook the meal. The Big Tuna is one of the best teachers in the league (he didn't get to be one of the top turnaround artists in NFL history with smoke and mirrors)... he is detail-oriented, organized, devoted to fundamentals, a master communicator and demands and insists upon accountability. He is also one of the best at not letting a demoralizing loss (such as the potentially catastrophic one to the Redskins three weeks ago with two last minute Hail Mary's to Santana "Oye Como Va" Moss) cause a season to spiral downwards and out of control. His charges were characteristically resilient the past two weeks and looked born again hard in dominant wins against the potent offenses of divisional foes PHI and NYG... the Giants had the #1 offense prior to the Sunday tilt, and have been since passed by this week's DAL opponent, the improved and dangerous Seahawks (the Cowboys return to the scene of the crime of last leason's miraculous comeback on MNF). The 'boys have undergone one of the most radical defensive transformations of any team since 2004... comparable to that of IND and CIN and superior to KC... MIN has not lived up to the pre-season hype, but they are attempting to mesh a lot of new parts and could conceivably improve by year end (with the state of the NFC North, they could be something like 6-9 going into week 17 and still have a shot at the divisional toilet bowl crown).

DENVER - Skeletor was ridiculed for his seemingly bizarre DB top-heavy draft in which they traded out of the first round and into the second (recouping that first in the 2006 draft) and seemingly took all CBs... besides the infamous wasted last pick of day one. This was clearly a case of the Broncos building a defense with a specific team in mind... the Colts have been their nemesis for two years in a row. The early returns on rookie CBs Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth have been rave reviews (they have each had 10 tackle games in recent weeks) and have been needed with the demotion of underwhelming Lenny Walls (and injury to Pro Bowler Champ Bailey). Coupled with the shrewd trade last season of Clinton Portis for Bailey (PLUS a second rounder... parlayed into Portis' likely eventual successor Tatum Bell) and the FA addition of former Buc Pro Bowl safety John Lynch, HC Shanahan has transformed the face of the "Mile High" secondary in little more than a year. Similar second guessing followed in the wake of the signing of the "Brown-coes" (a transplant of the formerly underachieving CLE DL nearly en masse) but in retrospect looks prescient. The Broncs went back to the future with the offseason re-signing of WLB Ian Gold, who made a game-saving play to bat away a 2 point conversion attempt by the suddenly hot Redskins two weeks ago that would have sent the game to overtime. Speed kills, and DEN probably has the fastest LB trio in the NFL... the 220 lb Gold has clocked a 4.4, MLB Al Wilson is cat-quick and former WLB/now SLB D.J. Williams was the USA Today Player of the Year as a dual threat FB/LB. The most recent victory against the incumbent Super Bowl champ Patriots was convincing enough to catapult DEN all the way to #2 in some NFL power rankings.

DETROIT - The dysfunctional Motor City offense is playing with all the abandon, energy and fire of crash test dummies, and if they were a car model rolling off one of the Ford owners assembly lines they would probably have been recalled already (as perhaps HC Mooch and maybe even GM Millen should be). A rift may be forming in the Lions locker room, with some veteran team leaders on defense (virtually all the principal DET skill position players are inexperienced) becoming more vocal and agitated about the lack of accountability on offense. The D played well enough to win against the dangerous and explosive but erratic and self-destructive Panthers in a 21-20 disappointment which saw the offense (AGAIN) let the game slip away. The offense squandered dueling defensive TDs by Boss Bailey and good looking FA SS and ex-Bronc, Kennoy Kennedy. Kennedy has now had a few monster games already and is worth keeping an eye on if available on the WW. He lends a physical dimension that the defense has missed in the Millen tenure (surprising with his tough guy persona) and since a byegone era with Chris Spielman and Bennie Blades. On the bright side, DET is absurdly tied for first place in the pathetic, catastrophically underachieving NFC North at 2-3.


HOUSTON - Penalty Box (42-10 pasting by the Seahawks on the Sunday night special)

INDIANAPOLIS - The Colts lead the NFL in sacks with 21. DE Robert Mathis is "undersized" but gets results... he currently sits atop the DL leader board in FBG scoring, and his incomparable speed rushing edge counterpart Dwight Freeney is #8... they have surpassed the frightening tandems of the Panthers (Peppers and Rucker) and Saints (Grant and Howard) as the most dangerous DE duo in captivity. WLB Cato June leads the NFL in INTs (5)... not LBs, but safeties and CBs included (CIN CB Deltha O'Neal is second with 4). He has also surged to a #4 ranking among LBs in FBG scoring, and MLB Gary Brackett is holding steady at #9 for the surprising IND defense. Even after a 28 point "outburst" by the Rams, the Colts are pacing the league in the PA column (57). To put that in perspective, 28 points was just one less than the defense gave up in the previous five games to start the season... COMBINED. Some sceptics contend that "Godfather of the Cover Two" Dungy's charges put together their historically stingy PA total (narrowly missing on becoming the second team in NFL history to not allow DD in four straight games) against lesser competition... BAL, JAX, CLE, TEN & SF before the Rams tilt. Needless to say, though, the 2005 Colts D is vastly superior to any during the Dungy tenure, and has been the key factor in rocketing the team to the top of nearly all league power rankings. FS Bob Sanders is poised on the threshold of the top 10 DBs in FBG scoring (despite missing some time early), and is the rare free safety that is so gifted athletically and is such a dynamic playmaker that he is more productive than nearly all of the strong safeties in the league. The "Hitman" played well despite a biceps injury that had him listed as questionable on the injury report last week. If the knockout artist can manage to stay in one piece (he throws his body around against players he routinely gives up 30-40-50 lbs at a listed 204), he is playing at a level that will bring him Pro Bowl recognition this season. The former Iowa star has been a catalyst in the defensive transformation. GM Polian and HC Dungy didn't just engineer a cosmetic makeover... they blew the defense up with dynamite in recent seasons.

JACKSONVILLE - DE Reggie Hayward has put to rest whispers that he was a bust after the first few games by going on a sack tear in recent weeks. It also reveals Denver really is an elite edge rushing factory, also producing Cardinals DE and former Bronco FA Bertrand Berry, one of the top pickups in 2004. 2002 Buck Buchanan award recipient, CB Rashean Mathis had a rare walkoff INT return for a TD (only about the 15th in NFL history). He broke the NCAA Division 1-AA records for INTs (formerly held by "Superman" Dean Cain) and shattered the record for INT return yards. He is a superior athlete and worth monitoring and tracking his progress... Mathis is up 'n coming and could be one of the best CBs in the league in the near future.

KANSAS CITY - Good looking rookie SLB Derrick Johnson is perhaps the most formidable DROY competition for the luminously talented Bengals MLB Odell Thurman. He is breathing down his neck at #12 LB in FBG scoring, and unlike his gifted counterpart, has amassed his equally impressive stats despite having a bye and one less game. The Chiefs were thrilled when the Panthers unexpectedly took Georgia SS/OLB-tweener Thomas Davis off the board right before them, and with the former Bulldog's slow development due to struggles with coverage (a forte of DJ), the seeming lack of a clearly defined pro position and the current failure of the CAR coaching staff to find a productive role for him within the context of their overall sceme, KC is probably even more happy that the 2004 Collegiate Defensive Player of the Year from Texas literally fell into their laps. The former Longhorn great, serial All-American and four year starter broke the NCAA record for FFs in a season (9), and has helped spearhead the Chiefs league lead in that department (18). SS Sammy Knight's 47 takeaways since 1997 are the most in the NFL during that span. DE Jared Allen was the 2003 Buck Buchanan award winner (as were ATL rookie third rounder Jordan Beck, Rashean Mathis, Edgerton Hartwell and Dexter Coakley) for top Div 1-AA defensive player. He had a promising rookie season, leading all IDPs in his class in sacks (9), including more highly touted first round DEs Will Smith and Kenechi Udeze. Allen is in the top 5 among DL in tackles (23) and is coming off of one of the most dominant individual defensive performances of the season (6-0, 3 sacks, 2 FFs & 2 FRs... also helped jar the ball loose for an uncredited third FF that led directly to an 80 yard Knight FR return for a TD that changed the complexion of the game at a crucial moment), for which he won AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter

  1. Odell Thurman, MLB, CIN, 2.16, Georgia (6'1" 230)
  2. Derrick Johnson, SLB, KC, 1.15, Texas (6'4" 235)
  3. Lofa Tatupu, MLB, SEA, 2.13, USC (6'0" 240)
  4. DeMarcus Ware, OLB/DE, DAL, 1.11, Troy State (6'4" 232)
  5. Kirk Morrison, OLB/ILB, OAK, 3.14, San Diego State (6'2" 240)
  6. Mike Patterson, DT, PHI, 1.31, USC (6'0" 285)
  7. Kerry Rhodes, SS, NYJ, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210)
  8. C.C. Brown, SS, HOU, 6.14, LA-Lafayette, (6'0" 200)
  9. Marlin Jackson, CB, IND, 1.29, Michigan (6'1" 200)
  10. Shawne Merriman, OLB/DE, SD, 1.12, Maryland (6'4" 245)

    Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

  • Darrent Williams, CB, DEN, 2.24, Oklahoma State (5'8" 188)
  • Dominique Foxworth, CB, DEN, 3.33, Maryland (5'11" 180)
  • Thomas Davis, SS/OLB, CAR, 1.14, Georgia (6'3" 230)
  • Carlos Rogers, CB, WAS, 1.9, Auburn (6'1" 194)
  • Josh Bullocks, SS/FS, NO, 2.8, Nebraska (6'0" 205)
  • Nick Collins, FS, GB, 2.19, Bethune Cookman (5'11" 193)
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones, CB, TEN, 1.6, West Virginia (5'11" 185)
  • Chris Canty, DE, DAL, 4.31, Virginia (6'7" 290)
  • Erasmus James, DE, MIN, 1.18, Wisconsin (6'4" 270)
  • Channing Crowder, ILB/OLB, MIA, 3.6, Florida (6'2" 240)
  • Alfred Fincher, MLB, NO, 3.18, Connecticut (6'1" 240)
  • David Pollack, SLB, CIN, 1.17, Georgia (6'2" 260)
  • Marcus Spears, DE, DAL, 1.20, LSU (6.4 295)
  • Kevin Burnett, OLB, DAL, 2.10, Tennessee (6'3" 235)
  • Leroy Hill, WLB, 3.35, Clemson (6'1" 225)
  • Shaun Cody, DT/DE, DET, 2.5, USC (6'3" 290)
  • Corey Webster, CB, NYG, 2.11, LSU (6'0" 197)
  • Brodney Pool, FS/SS, CLE, 2.2, Oklahoma (6'3" 208)
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, STL, 3.2, Stanford (5'11" 220)
  • Barrett Ruud, MLB, TB, 2.4, Nebraska (6'2" 240)
  • Jonathan Babineaux, DT, ATL, 2.27, Iowa (6'2" 280)
  • Matt Roth, DE, MIA, 2.14, Iowa (6'4" 270)
  • Bryant McFadden, CB, PIT, 2.30, Florida State (6'0" 180)
  • Chris Harris, FS, CHI, 6.7, Louisiana-Monroe (6'0" 205)
  • Fabian Washington, CB, OAK, 1.23, Nebraska (5'11 180)
  • Stanford Routt, CB, OAK, 2.6, Houston (6'1" 195)
  • Jerome Carter, SS, STL, 4.16, Florida State (5'11" 220)
  • Lance Mitchell, MLB, 5.32, Oklahoma (6'3" 245)
  • Luis Castillo, NT, SD, 1.28, Northwestern (6'5" 305)
  • Justin Tuck, DE, NYG, 3.10, Notre Dame (6'5" 261)
  • Travis Johnson, DE, HOU, 1.16, Florida State (6'5" 285)
  • Donte Nicholson, SS, TB, 5.5, Oklahoma (6'2" 216)
  • Justin Miller, CB, NYJ, 2.25, Clemson (5'11" 200)
  • Eric Green, CB, ARI, 3.11, Virginia Tech (6'0" 197)
  • Daryl Blackstock, SLB, ARI, 3.32, Virginia, (6'4" 240)
  • Ron Bartell, CB/FS, STL, 2.18, Howard (6'1" 213)
  • Travis Daniels, CB, MIA, 4.3, LSU (6'1" 184)
  • Kelvin Hayden, CB, IND, 2.28, Illinois (6'0" 198)
  • Stanley Wilson, CB, DET, 3.8, Stanford (6'0" 190)
  • James Butler, S, NYG, UFA (only undrafted free agent on this list), Georgia Tech (6'3" 210)

    Injured Reserve

  • Dan Cody, OLB/DE, BAL, 2.21, Oklahoma (6'5" 265)
  • Antrel Rolle, CB, ARI, 1.8, Miami (6'1" 202)

In-Depth Profile

This section will draw from and point back to pre-season work, such as the IDP Rookie and Sleepers articles, as well as include new profiles in-season as events dictate.

Marlin Jackson from the Pre-Season Rookie IDP (DB) Article

Overview: Sensational athlete won USA Today All-American and state Player of the Year awards as a PA prep (four year starter at RB, WR and DB and a three year starter in basketball). Garnered All-American recognition three of four seasons at Michigan and served as team captain his senior year. A DB with the multi-faceted physical traits and skill set to line up at CB or safety (played every secondary position for the Wolverines). Safety cross-training made him an outstanding open field tackler. A big, strong athlete (6'0" 196 and 23 reps) who will match up against some behemoths in the "Land of the Giants" (WRs that is, with Andre Johnson, Drew Bennett, Matt Jones and Reggie Williams)... otherwise known as the AFC South. With mighty-mite safeties Bob Sanders and Mike Doss in the Colts secondary, it makes sense to have a super-sized CB (6'0" 196). The Colts coveted first rounder employs textbook, picture-perfect form and is a solid, wrap up open field tackler (a unifying thread among the FBG Top 5 DBs). While some scouts think he's better suited to play safety in the NFL (a 4.5 at his workout may have dispelled that notion), he is most comfortable at CB and the Colts are expected to keep him there, at least initially. Outstanding football smarts and leadership; he made all the secondary calls and coverage adjustments based on shift matchups. The addition of stud Big Ten secondary aces in consecutive years (with Iowa SS/FS Bob Sanders and Jackson) could weaponize Dungy's defense, yielding hope that IND can finally field a stopping unit worthy of being coupled to the #1 offense in the NFL... instead of former year's instances of having a Ferrari body bolted on to a Pinto chassis.

Fantasy Outlook: The Colts have been starting their recent high draft choices on defense almost immediately, as Freeney, Doss and Sanders all started right away. One layer with which to screen prospects and help with projections is at the system level. The Colts primarily use a scheme called the Cover Two (brought from Tampa Bay by HC Tony Dungy). It is a zone-based defense. The important thing to take away from this is that CBs in this scheme are positioned to rack up a lot of run support tackles because they don't turn and run with WRs... they hand them off to safeties instead (deployed in deep halves to keep action in front). Garo Yepremian could get 100 tackles in the Cover Two. It has made stars of Ronde Barber (TB), Jerametrius Butler (STL) and Harper in recent years, and is expected to do the same for Charles Tillman (Bears HC Lovie Smith from Dungy coaching tree) and Jackson. When evaluating IDPs, it's always important to consider the scheme a player plays in as well as his talent level. The former Wolverine All-American CB has safety size, a physical, aggressive, run stuffing mentality, and is embedded in a scheme conducive to maximizing CB tackles. Bonus plan could include a few INTs and RAC skills. Some scouts think he is better in zone, so the Cover Two aligns well with his strengths. Nearly as perfect a marriage of a prospects skill set meshing with his system and scheme as there was in the entire 2005 draft. One of the top two rookie CBs in redrafts with Rolle and among the three top dynasty prospects along with Carlos Rogers. Could surprise with a top 20 DB finish. Not as athletic as former Ohio State phenom Chris Gamble, but he is both more physical in run support and polished in coverage.

Cracking the Code - The Tipping Point

When is the right time for a waiver wire pickup? Wait too long and miss out on a hot prospect... pick up too early and potentially waste a pick up (or valuable FA cash in auction leagues). One week is almost certainly too soon for pouncing on a prospective breakout candidate... for every one that turns into a gem, half a dozen will fade into the mists of obscurity. Probably waiting three and definitely four weeks will conversely lead to the opposite error of waiting too long and allowing a potential IDP stud to slip into the opposition's hands. About 2-3 weeks is probably a sweet spot to help separate the wheat from the chaff, and parse the genuine article breakout from the red herring and false alarm. Also be on the lookout for the pattern of breakout-us interruptus... in which you have identified and targeted a talented player with a nice confluence of youth, pedigree, measurables & opportunity, but for some reason/s his progress has been delayed or stalled. Sometimes these players have a different development rate, so have your spidey sense tingling and an early warning system to alert you to an impending breakout while others have been lulled into falling asleep at the switch. Bob Sanders had his breakout in 2005 and not 2004... but for those with the eyes to see, it was an inexorable development and merely a matter of biding one's time.

* dedicated to K


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