Week 12 rookie report card

Going into Thanksgiving weekend, the marquee game was Philadelphia at Chicago. The game lived up to its hype. In the first quarter the Bears jumped out to an early 11-point lead before the Eagles bounced back and looked like they were gaining control of the game. They had a 2nd and goal from the Bears 4-yard line with 2 minutes left in the half. A TD would have given them a 6-point lead at halftime and a big time of possession advantage. But the Bears defense, as it has done most of the season, came up with a big play getting an interception in the end zone and then returning the pick to their own 37-yard line. Six quick plays later, Jay Cutler threw his 3rd TD pass of the half to give the Bears a 21–13 lead at the half. That 14-point swing was the turning point of the game. Philly had to play catch up then and with the Bears defense dominating a comeback wasn’t going to happen.

So far this season there have been three “hot” teams. First, it was the New York Giants, then the Eagles and now the Bears. How long the Bears can sustain their great play remains to be seen, but at this time of the year teams that challenge for playoff spots need to be healthy — and the Bears are very healthy. There are no key starters out at this time, so things look favorable for the stretch run.

In the Bears-Eagles game, there were a handful of first-year players that played roles in this game. Here is a look.

Chicago Bears

J’Marcus Webb

Jā€™Marcus WebbJ’Marcus Webb is still raw, but he improves every week.

We have talked about Webb before and there is not much to add other than he improves every week. He still has a few breakdowns every game and when he does it’s usually costly. On Sunday during one pas play he looked and moved inside leaving the outside lane free and the DE came off the edge untouched to sack Cutler.

Webb has tremendous potential but he is very raw. He started his college career at Texas and got a lot of playing time as a true freshman but some off the field issues caused him to transfer. He first went to a junior college and then West Texas A&M. Nothing against the West Texas program, but Webb was not going to get the coaching and be involved in a top weight program he would have had at Texas. This hindered his development and now he has to learn on the fly. He has the physical tools to be a very good NFL player and he has a position coach in Mike Tice that is excited about developing his traits.
But in addition to having some mental lapses in games he also has some physical lapses. He can get a little lazy with his technique or just not move quick enough to get the job done right, but I have seen consistent improvement in his play. He has one natural trait that no coach can teach or weight coach can help develop and that is his extremely long arms. Being a tackle and having to play on the outside, the long arms give him a natural leverage advantage that can be tough to overcome. Because his play keeps improving, he earns a B- for this game.

Major Wright

During the preseason, Wright looked like he was going to be a starter, but then the injury bug hit and he missed valuable time both in preseason and the regular season. In the last few weeks, Wright has gotten much more playing time. He isn’t starting, but he is playing in a rotation with the two starters.

Wright has top natural talent. He has size, speed, agility and a great passion for the game. He does all he can to become a top player. Even though he played in a rotation he still was third in tackles on Sunday with 6. Major has very good instincts and range. He can have a tendency to give a bit too much cushion but with his transition and closing speed he can make up for it. In support he is very aggressive and a sure tackler. He enjoys laying a big lick on an opponent.

He had some real nice plays Sunday. On a reverse he played inside/out leverage very well and even though he didn’t make the tackle, he took away the cutback lane. On another play he read a screen very quickly and was able to get to the play and stop it after just a short gain. He also came hard on an outside safety blitz and forced a bad throw with his pressure. It’s plays like these that will earn him more playing time during the last third of the season. He earns a solid B for the game.

Philadelphia Eagles

Brandon Graham

Brandon GrahamBrandon Graham started at left end because of the injury to Jaqua Parker.

Because of injury to Jaqua Parker, Graham got the start at left end against the Bears. Graham is undersized at 6-1, 265 pounds, but he has a big motor to go along with good natural power and speed. He did some nice things in this game. Early he got good penetration to force the back to go inside and get tackles for a loss. He got a sack when he came unblocked and had a couple pressures. He also got caught inside versus a Cutler scramble letting the QB get a sizeable gain.

His overall play versus the run is inconsistent. He gives ground to angle blocks, but shows consistent ability to hold his ground. He also showed good ability to shed a tight end block and make a stop for no gain.

His speed and explosiveness are his best attributes when pass rushing. He still needs to use his hands better to disengage from the blocker.

Overall, I would say that Graham had a better than average game. His lack of natural size will always limit him to an extent but he should become a player you can win with. He gets a B.

Trevard Lindley

Lindley also had to play because of injury to the starter. He is not a very big guy at 5-11 and 182 pounds. He has a lean frame and does not play with power. He lined up at left corner in this game and the Bears picked on him. He played to loose in coverage giving Bears receivers too much room to make moves and catches. There were a few plays when he wasn’t within 3 yards of the receiver when the catch was made. He didn’t show aggressiveness in run support either. Instead of attacking he waited for plays to come to him. As a tackler he will hit but he is not an explosive hitter and can give ground on contact.

Overall, not a good game for Lindley and he gets a C-.

Nate Allen

Allen starts at free safety and has played well all season. I would say this game was average. Early on he showed good pursuit speed to catch Matt Forte on a run but then a few plays later he was a bit late seeing Earl Bennett come across the middle and the result was a Bears TD. Like a lot of the Eagles players, he was having trouble with his footing at Soldier Field. This caused him to be a little more cautious in coverage and giving the Bears receivers to much cushion. In run support he is a good player who is aggressive and a good tackler.

The Eagles use Allen on some safety blitzes and he comes hard and shows the ability to redirect. Overall, Allen has ideal size and speed to be a top safety in the league. He also has top character and a great passion for the game so he will keep improving. He earns a B for this game.

Westbrook's production a great lesson to young players

Watching the Niners-Cards game last night, I couldn’t help but think about Brian Westbrook. Five total carries—on the season. This is a player I used to have to prepare for and compete against back in the NFC East. He was a nightmare from a game plan perspective, and at one point, the most dangerous offensive player in the game. All we talked about in our defensive meeting room in Washington was how to limit (not stop) Westbrook.

Brian WestbrookICONWestbrook stepped into the lineup last night and rushed for 136-yards and a TD.

Out in San Francisco, we couldn’t even consider him a role player (or a compliment) to staring running back Frank Gore. A long fall from the days in Philly, and something we are accustomed to seeing at the running back position with big name veterans—they vanish.

However, last night was all about opportunity and a great lesson to young players who come into this league. Westbrook goes from an afterthought to the No.1 back because of an injury. It happens all of the time in the NFL. The No.1 goes down and the next guy in line is supposed to produce—because that is what they are paid to do. The Niners' running back steps in for Gore and carries the ball 23 times for 136-yards and a TD. He looked fresh, was able to make people miss at the second level of the defense and didn’t miss a step in the San Francisco power running game.

Young players—especially rookies—should see that production and realize that when they are called upon to carry the ball, step in along the offensive line, play in the secondary, etc. the coaches expect you to play at a high level. Think of it this way, the Niners and Mike Singletary did not go into that game in Arizona last night with a game plan designed to feature Westbrook. He wasn't featured throughout the week of practice, nor was he expected to be a productive player in a No.1 role.

But NFL game plans are completely flipped by the end of the first quarter and a name that wasn’t supposed to show up in the box score did—with big numbers attached to it. And he will be expected to do it again this Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Packers.

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Waiver Wire Hot List

Brian Westbrook, RB, San Francisco 49ers: With Frank Gore out for the season due to a fractured hip suffered in Monday night’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, B-West will become one of the featured ball-carries for the Niners. The former Philadelphia Eagle picked up 136 yards and one touchdown against a lousy Arizona run defense in Week 12, so taper your expectations for the coming weeks. Remember, rookie Anthony Dixon will be getting some burn as well.

Anthony Dixon, RB, San Francisco 49ers: If you think back to August, you may remember that this was the guy who led all NFL running backs in rushing yards during the preseason. Dixon has more value for owners in touchdown leagues, as he is a power back that will likely handle the bulk of San Francisco’s goal line work.

Ben Obomanu, WR, Seattle Seahawks: With Mike Williams sidelined in Week 12 due to injury, Obomanu stepped in and caught five passes for 159 yards and a touchdown on six targets against the Kansas City Chiefs. His value will take a hit when Williams returns to action, so owners should view Obomanu as WR3/bench player who can add some nice depth to the roster.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota Vikings: After Adrian Peterson went down with an ankle injury at Washington on Sunday, the rookie from Stanford carried the rock 22 times for 76 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 17-10 win. A.P. is expected to play in Week 13, but owners should still target Gerhart as insurance AND to prevent the Peterson owner from landing a potential replacement.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders: We mentioned Ford a few weeks back after he shredded the Kansas City Chiefs secondary. We’re mentioning him again this week because he just got done torching the Miami Dolphins for 108 yards and a touchdown on just four receptions. Owners who play in leagues that award points for return yardage should pay extra attention to Ford, who took the opening kickoff 101 yards to the house on Sunday.

Maurice Morris, RB, Detroit Lions: Somebody has to run the ball in Detroit this season and with rookie Jahvid Best still nursing a toe injury (zero carries in Week 12), Morris has become the man. Against New England on Thanksgiving, the veteran running back totaled 75 yards and two touchdowns on 14 touches.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins: Henne returned to the starting lineup on Sunday at Oakland to throw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-17 win that could be described as his best performance of the season. This guy has proven to be inconsistent, but he has an awesome playoff schedule that features remaining games against the Browns, Bills and Lions.

Kevin Boss, TE, New York Giants: There’s no way Boss should still be available in your league (since we told you about him last week), but if he is, make a move. The New York tight end caught three passes for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first game quarterback Eli Manning played without star receivers Steve Smith AND Hakeem Nicks. Boss will continue to be targeted frequently with both of those guys out of action.

Javon Ringer, RB, Tennessee Titans: With the recent injuries to Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore, Johnson owners can’t afford to take any risks at this point in the season. Get Ringer as a handcuff and sleep well at night knowing you’re in good hands with your insurance policy.

Derrick Mason, WR, Baltimore Ravens: We don’t expect much from Mason in Week 13 due to his matchup with the Steelers, but keep in mind that this guy has found the end zone in three of his last four games.

DeSean Jackson says everything is OK with Andy Reid

DeSean Jackson said he and Andy Reid are fine after he spoke with reporters for the first time since the Philadelphia Eagles coach laid into him in the locker room following the team’s loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Eagles need to mend this mess quickly with the Houston Texans coming to visit on Thursday, and if you buy into what Jackson said, maybe bygones are bygones.

“We’re good,” Jackson said today, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, when asked about his relationship with Reid.

“I’m not here to talk about (what happened Sunday after the game). What we talked about in the locker room is between the team,” Jackson said. “I just want to win games, that’s what I’m here for. As far as anything else, I could care less about it.”

Jackson caught only two passes against the Bears as they did a good job of taking him and Jeremy Maclin out of the game. The speculation is Jackson wants to be more involved in the offense, but he didn’t bite when asked about that. Reid talked up his receiver earlier today and it would appear everything is back to normal with a particularly bad defense coming to Lincoln Financial Field. Maybe it’s a chance for the Eagles to get well.

“Teams are trying to do different things to take me away. It's just a part of football. I've just got to go out there and keep working and do what I need to do to continue to be the type of player that I am.”

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

2010 All-Big 12 teams

The Big 12 announced its 2010 award winners and all-conference teams on Tuesday, as voted by the coaches.

Note: Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Award Winners

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Defensive Player of the Year: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Coach of the Year: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Offensive Freshman of the Year: QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
Co-Defensive Freshmen of the Year: DB Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma and LB Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
Offensive Lineman of the Year: OT Nate Solder, Colorado
Defensive Lineman of the Year: DE Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
Special Teams Player of the Year: K Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
Newcomer of the Year: LB Lavonte David, Nebraska

First team

Offense

Kendall HunterICONOklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State and DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
FB: Bryant Ward, Oklahoma State
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State; Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma; Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Nate Solder, Colorado; Tim Barnes, Missouri; Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State; Ricky Henry, Nebraska; Eric Mensik, Oklahoma
PK: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
KR/PR: William Powell, Kansas State

Defense

DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma; Pierre Allen, Nebraska; Sam Acho, Texas; Aldon Smith, Missouri; Jared Crick, Nebraska
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M; Lavonte David, Nebraska; Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
DB: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma; Jimmy Smith, Colorado; Eric Hagg, Nebraska; Prince Amukamara, Nebraska; Andrew McGee, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

Second team

Offense

QB: Robert Griffin III, Baylor
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State; Roy Helu Jr, Nebraska
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor; Niles Paul, Nebraska; T.J. Moe, Missouri
TE: Collin Franklin, Iowa State
OL: Zach Kendall, Kansas State; Danny Watkins, Baylor; Matt Allen, Texas A&M; Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech; Ben Lamaak, Iowa State
PK: Alex Henery, Nebraska
KR/PR: Niles Paul, Nebraska

Defense

DL: Colby Whitlock, Texas Tech; Phil Taylor, Baylor; Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State; Jacquies Smith, Missouri; Cameron Meredith, Nebraska
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma; Jake Knott, Iowa State; Emmanuel Acho, Texas
DB: Alfonzo Dennard; Nebraska; Aaron Williams, Texas; Leonard Johnson, Iowa State; Coryell Judie, Texas A&M; Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State; Curtis Brown, Texas
P: Alex Henery, Nebraska

To see the honorable mentions, click here.

Check out the brand-new NFP Message Boards and let your voice be heard on all things college football.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

DeAngelo Williams uncertain about his future in Carolina

DeAngelo Williams hopes to remain a Carolina Panther next season but the first-round draft pick from 2006 realizes there are no guarantees for him.

Williams, who was placed on injured reserve Nov. 17 with a sprained arch in his right foot, will be a free agent following this season.

“I love being a Carolina Panther. I don't want to go anywhere,” Carolina’s all-time leading rusher said, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “It's not my decision, though.”

There’s expected to be major change in Carolina following the season and expectations are no big decisions will be made until after the dust has settled. That leaves Williams, in limbo.

“I have no idea what's going to happen. I don't even know if there's going to be football next year,” Williams said. “I just know I'm preparing myself to play football if it's even possible for us to play. I'm trying to put myself in the best situation, to get my foot right.”

The Panthers have other options with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, who has run for 100 yards in each of his first two starts. Investing in 27-year-old running backs can be risky. There’s been talk, but that’s about it.

“There's a lot of talking,” Williams said. “Do you consider that reassurance?”

Healthy, Williams would be an attractive option in free agency. That much is certain.

Follow me on Twitter: BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

NFL to refund fans for canceled games

According to USA Today, the NFL has announced refunds for all general admission seats to preseason and regular season games canceled by a potential lockout in 2011. The refunds would kick in thirty days following an announcement by the league as to how many games would be canceled and how many played in 2011.

This is certainly a nice gesture by the NFL but likely to be met with an indifferent response from fans that would be affected by this. Certainly, fans are not expecting to pay for games that are not played due to an ongoing battle between the NFL and the NFLPA over who gets how much of the $8.5 billion of revenues that the sport produces.

The NFL has required payments from broadcast networks to continue paying even in the event of a work stoppage in 2011 (albeit with credits/offsets later in the deal), giving itself what the NFLPA refers to as “lockout insurance”. The money provide the NFL leverage in its negotiations, steeling themselves against the season going dark with a lucrative war chest.

Asking that of the networks, especially DirecTV, whose business depends on the NFL, is one thing. To ask that of fans is another. The NFL and its teams were not going to put fans in the same position as the networks, paying for games that will not be played. It sounds obvious, but the league wanted to make a point of it.

Today's news is the latest in the ongoing public relations battle between the NFL and the NFLPA for the hearts and minds of the fans (and the media) in spinning this labor dispute that has not produced meaningful results to this point.

Today started a multi-part primer on the background and important issues regarding these labor negotiations. Check it out!

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Don't forget about the Saints

The 9-2 Falcons and the 8-3 Bears are receiving most of the NFC hype—justifiable hype—after their big wins on Sunday. But, where does that leave Sean Payton and the Saints? New Orleans is an 8-3 ball club—and I think we often look past them.

In fact, we find ways to break them down. Go back to Thanksgiving. The Saints blow an early lead and need a magical strip from Malcolm Jenkins, plus a late TD drive from Drew Brees, to get past the Cowboys. And we all started to hear the comments: couldn’t close out Dallas, the defense gave up too many plays, Reggie Bush didn’t play to his abilities in his return to the lineup, etc., etc.

Drew BreesICONBrees and the Saints are still one of the top teams in the NFC–despite the lack of hype.

That’s all true, but they are the team that got on that plane with a win. They found a way to beat a Dallas team that played their best football—something that New Orleans has to prepare for every week.

I never played on a Super Bowl team in my career, but I can tell you that we got up to play the champs if they were on the schedule the following season. We practiced harder and we studied longer. Do whatever it takes to get a win against the players with the fresh new rings. That’s how it works and it doesn’t stop there. The rest of the league spends the offseason studying the champs. That’s what you do. Breakdown, analyze and dissect the champ’s tape in the spring. See what they do scheme wise, steal techniques and, of course, find a way to take them down. The two things that every player and coach does in the offseason is watch tape of their divisional opponents and of the Super Bowl champions. That is pretty standard across the NFL.

Yet, as we are about to head into December football in the NFL, and the Saints are still here. I will be the first to admit that the offense has looked sluggish at times in the 2010 season. Gregg Williams has had a hard time limiting the production in the run game with his defense, and the turnovers aren’t coming on a regular basis like we saw last season. However, the Saints are still one of the toughest teams to prepare for from a scheme perspective on both sides of the ball. Complex, with multiple alignments, personnel groupings and formations.

The numbers, the stat line and the amount of points scored aren’t going to reflect the 2009 season. We should all understand that, but with the amount of talent they have on both sides of the ball, there is no reason to forget about the Saints—because they can still make some noise in the post season.

We can all see that the NFC is starting to separate, The good teams, the legit teams, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Philly, Green Bay and New York all have a realistic shot to put a run together and end up in Dallas playing for the Lombardi Trophy. But, don’t leave out New Orleans, because I have a hard time believing they aren’t near the top of that list.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

Cardinals QB Anderson: 'I study my ass off'

It's safe to say that Derek Anderson didn't have a great night in front of the Monday Night Football audience.

After struggling in the team's 26-7 loss to San Francisco, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback took his frustrations out on Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic in the post-game press conference.

Somers questioned why the signal caller was laughing with guard Deuce Lutui on the sideline when the Cards were down by 18 points.

Enjoy the show.

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The Daily Jolt is a section of the National Football Post that serves as a one-stop shop for all things football, sports, pop culture and everyday life.

NFL labor pains: Part One

Now that we are under 100 days until the end of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), this begins a multi-part series on the labor dispute in the NFL. I will give background and delve into key issues facing the two sides. With experience on both sides of the table – as an agent and a team executive – I will try to lend my insights and forecast where this may be going.

The dominant story in football in the coming months will be the potential for the no football in 2011, a season potentially washed out by NFL owners locking out NFL players from playing games due to the inability to agree on a CBA govern the business of football.

Robert KraftICONKraft's positive comments help, but little progress has been made.

Negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association have produced little to this point. Despite recent optimistic comments by influential team owners such as the Patriot’s Robert Kraft, there has been more activity in lockout preparations – the NFL negotiating reduced salaries for team and league employees in 2011, the NFLPA Decertification tour, etc.—than in negotiations. It has appeared that once we entered the 2010 League Year – with no salary cap and, more importantly, no salary floor — all urgency to negotiate a new agreement faded. And this low spending year has emboldened ownership in attempting to forge a new economic system for the future.

How did we get here?

To review, in March 2006 NFL ownership ratified a new agreement with the players by a vote of 30-2, with Ralph Wilson of the Bills and Mike Brown of the Bengals the dissenting votes. I remember the day well, communicating with our president at the Packers at the time, Bob Harlan, who kept saying that the meeting was all about revenue sharing plan. “Nothing about the labor deal?” I would ask. “No” Harlan would respond, “We’re just talking revenue sharing.”

The late Gene Upshaw – the head of the NFL Players Association at the time –had created the specter of an uncapped year ahead that would — as he painted it — change the way the NFL does business irrevocably and make football look like baseball. He had invoked the ominous phrase “Once the Salary Cap goes away, it’s not coming back!” that stoked fear then (it has not done so now), afraid their colleagues in that room would drive player spending to new heights without a Cap to apply the brakes.

And, of course, Upshaw had a strong and long relationship with then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Tagliabue’s presentation of the deal to his membership was important. The near-unanimous ratification of the CBA in 2006 was, in part, an outgoing homage to Tagliabue’s successful tenure as Commissioner and a testament to the labor peace that he and Upshaw had created for almost two decades.

Player payroll surge

Upon ratification of the new deal in 2006, the Cap went up geometrically. In years prior to 2006, and years since 2006, growth rates for the Cap have been in the 6-7% range. In 2006, the Cap grew 19%.

The 2005 Salary Cap for NFL teams was $85.5 million; the 2006 Salary Cap for NFL teams was $102 million. Whether that was not fully explained to ownership nor fully understood remains a mystery. However, soon after the ink was dry on the deal, more owners and league employees started to feel that the deal needed to be rolled back, especially in an environment of a lean economy and lost appetite for public funding of stadiums.

Opt-out

The agreement was supposed to continue until March of 2013. The owners had an opportunity to shorten the deal by two years if they exercised such opt-out by November of 2008.

They didn’t need to wait that long. Six months before their opt-out deadline, the NFL owners voted unanimously in May of 2008 to end the current CBA two years early, meaning 2008 and 2009 would be played with a Cap and the last season, this 2010 we are in, would be played without one. And it meant that the CBA’s expiration date would now be March 3, 2011.

New sheriffs

With new leadership on each side of the equation since 2006, the battle begins anew. Commissioner Roger Goodell is leading an ownership group determined to take back some of the turf that was lost in 2006, as the economic environment has been altered in the years since, especially in the area of stadium financing.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, a surprise winner in the search to replace Upshaw, is using his dramatic presentation style learned from litigating and navigating the Washington legal and power circles to convince fans and the media that the players simply want to play. Smith is in a difficult position, merely trying to protect what he already has and show his membership that he can deliver a deal at least as good as the one they have now.

Both Goodell and Smith are negotiating a CBA for the first time, and their relationship will be paramount. To this point, there has been little to none of the chemistry that Tagliabue and Upshaw had, but the relationship is still in its early stages with more communication through the media thus far than to each other. The lack of meaningful interaction between the two, however, is a reason for the limited progress at this point.

Tomorrow we’ll start to look at the key negotiating issues on the table.

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