The good side of the NFL and rookies impress

Len Pasquarelli talks about a positive story in the NFL and the early progression of select rookies.

Good guys

The arrests and run-ins with the law that have taken place during the lockout aside, there have been some terrific stories of public service on the part of NFL players and coaches. One that hasn't garnered much publicity, and actually has been delayed a bit, is the plan by Pittsburgh stars Hines Ward and James Harrison to purchase a home in the Stanton Heights section of the city, and transform it into a youth center. The home has particular meaning in Pittsburgh, because it's the site at which three Pittsburgh policemen were killed in April 2009 while responding to an alleged domestic disturbance call. The shooting deaths of the three officers - Paul Sciullo III, Stephen Mayhle, and Eric Kelly - sent shock waves reverberating through the city. Recently, a memorial was dedicated to the three in my old Bloomfield neighborhood, which was once home to Sciullo, and residents have had a difficult time getting over the incident. The purchase of the home, by Harrison and Ward, will at least help heal some wounds. Unfortunately, the sale of the home has been delayed by some legal maneuvering by the defense team representing alleged gunman Richard Poplawski. But the two Steelers standouts are to be lauded for their efforts to turn a place of miserable memories into something constructive.

Rookies impress

Teammates with whom he has practiced informally have been impressed by the work ethic, and obviously the physical potential, of Kansas City first-round wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. The former Pitt standout had the reputation of being a bit of a diva before the draft, but veteran players haven't evidenced any of that with Baldwin so far. ... There's always been a lot written about how Indianapolis seems to lose a linebacker in free agency almost every year. Less attention has been paid to the linebacker exodus in Atlanta, but if Stephen Nicholas exits the Falcons as an unrestricted free agent (think Detroit), it will leave the team will none of the veteran linebackers who were with the club in 2007, the year before coach Mike Smith arrived. Keith Brooking (2009), Michael Boley (2009), and Demorrio Williams (2008) all departed via free agency. Nicholas could be the next to depart, and Mike Peterson is also an unrestricted free agent, although the Falcons could re-sign him. ... There have been at least two agent switches this week by players chosen in the draft only seven weeks ago. Cleveland wide receiver Greg Little, a second-round pick, has gone to Rosenhaus after initially being represented by Octagon. And Buffalo third-round linebacker Kelvin Sheppard apparently has left SportsTrust Advisors, the firm recently created by the merger of veteran agents Pat Dye Jr. and Jimmy Sexton, to sign with a still-unidentified group. ... Devaney is the latest general manager or personnel director to suggest to The Sports Xchange that his department , with the lockout continuing, is deep into work on the 2012 draft. ... Although there's been plenty of chatter of late about the Chicago Bears adding a proven wide receiver, a team source insisted this week that there is no veteran pass-catcher "on the radar" right now. ... A year or two ago, critics of Jeff Backus were lobbying for the Detroit Lions to dump the veteran left tackle. Now, with Backus having played well in 2010 and a dearth of potential replacements, the Lions' brass has made signing him to a contract extension a priority when the lockout ends. Backus, who will be 34 in September, is entering the final season of the six-year, $40 million deal he signed in 2006. ... A couple personnel men whose teams could upgrade at linebacker in free agency this week noted the participation of Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis in drills with his teammates. The six-year veteran has blown out his ACL each of the past two seasons, and appeared in just seven games in that period, but apparently remains of interest to a few clubs. ... Speaking of the Panthers, a few veteran players noted to The Sports Xchange after workouts this week that they are more impressed with Cam Newton's diligence and work ethic than with his accuracy and mechanics.

The last word

"I don't think I'll ever get football 100 percent out of my system. I don't think that will ever happen. Maybe it will. I know I'm going to be a little bit rusty, and I'll be a little bit behind. (But) I feel I can go in and help the team win. ... Since leaving Nebraska, it's been a less-than-stellar professional career, hopping from team to team, league to league, having injuries and uncertainty." - Former Nebraska quarterback and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, upon signing with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL, the fourth different professional league in which he has played

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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