Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pittman Hosts Literacy Breakfast

More than 100 community leaders gathered to recognize the individuals and organizations that have supported Project Learn of Summit County and its goal to fight illiteracy in Summit County.

The agency hosted its 7th Annual Leaders for Literacy Breakfast on March 5, 2008 to raise awareness about Project Learn and the services it provides and recognize individuals and organizations that have helped in the agency’s dedication to serving the 45,000 people in Summit County who are illiterate.

This year, Project Learn recognized the Charles E. & Mabel M. Ritchie Memorial Foundation, Akhia Public Relations, Oriana House, Inc., and Teresa Pace.

“This year’s award winners serve as models for how others can get involved in improving our efforts to increase adult literacy here in Summit County,” said Rick McIntosh, Executive Director of Project Learn.

NFL player and former Ohio State University running back, Antonio Pittman served as the fundraiser’s community host, and Terry Pluto, author and Plain Dealer sports columnist, as keynote speaker.

Both talked about the value and importance of literacy, and will shared his personal goals to improve literacy in the community.

Following the breakfast, Pittman visited the agency’s main campus to speak to GED students. During the meet and greet, he shared his education experience with the students.

“I was not always the best student,” Pittman said. “I was suspended 28 times and was expelled twice during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. It was then when I realized if I didn’t straighten up, there would be no football.”

Pittman told the students that without getting an education and obtaining a certain GPA, he wouldn’t have gotten recruited by Ohio State University, nor would he have been drafted into the NFL.

“You can’t do anything without an education,” he said. “You should be commended for going back to get your GED. Without an education, it would be hard to survive in society.”

Project Learn student Tonya Morris enjoyed listening to Pittman, and said she will take what he said back to her son, who is experiencing the same distractions Pittman did when he was a teen.
“Antonio (Pittman) was really down to Earth,” she said. “He didn’t act like he was better than us just because he is in the NFL. He is encouraging and a role model to young guys in this area.”
He is an example to our students of hard work and dedication, McIntosh agreed.

“Antonio understands our students,” he added. “He represents the fasting growing segment of the population that is coming to Project Learn, which is the 16 to 24 year old.”

Pittman said he is honored to serve as encouragement to Project Learn students.

“I have witnessed first-hand the importance of education and literacy and the impact and improvement that literacy programs like Project Learn make in our community,” Pittman said. “It’s a privilege that these students, even though many are older that I am, look up to me. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that are I am a god person for them to look up to.”
McIntosh said he is pleased with the breakfast’s outcome and excited to work with Pittman to reach out to students that need to earn their GED.

“The breakfast was a success,” McIntosh said. “But anytime we can share our mission with the community is a success.”

Project Learn of Summit County is a nonprofit, community-based organization providing Summit County’s non-reading adult population with free, confidential, small group classes and tutoring. For more information, call Project Learn at 330-434-9461 or visit www.projectlearnsummit.org.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Offensive line receives boost as Bell joins up

The Rams took what they feel is a substantial step forward in upgrading their offensive line Monday evening, agreeing to
terms on a six-year deal with Tennessee free-agent guard Jacob Bell.

Bell, who started three of his four seasons with Tennessee, visited Rams Park on Monday, spending time with quarterback Marc Bulger and wide receiver Drew Bennett — a former Titans teammate. He will sign his contract this morning.

It's a six-year, $36 million deal, and includes a $7 million signing bonus and $13 million in guaranteed money.

Bell, who turned 27 on Sunday, will be the Rams' starting left guard next season, moving into the spot occupied by Mark Setterstrom at the start of 2007.

Left guard has been a trouble spot for Rams the past few seasons because of injuries and other factors. Since the start of the 2004 season, 11 players have started at least one game at the position.

Last season alone, Setterstrom, Claude Terrell, Andy McCollum and Milford Brown all drew starting assignments at left guard.

Health permitting, Bell could be a fixture there for years. A fifth-round draft pick by the Titans in 2004 out of Miami (Ohio), Bell missed only two games in four seasons with Tennessee. He missed one game at the end of his rookie season with a torn knee ligament and was inactive for a 2006 contest with a toe injury.

Overall, he has played in 55 regular-season games for Tennessee, including 46 starts. Forty-three of those starts were at left guard, and three at right tackle. In 2005, his only season when he wasn't a full-time starter, Bell also saw duty at left tackle.

"He's a 'four position' player," coach Scott Linehan said, meaning Bell's capable of playing both guard and both tackle positions. "But he's more suited to guard. He's athletic, and strong, with a great ability to get to the second level."

Linehan said Bell was the highest-rated offensive guard on the Rams'
free-agency board. But the Rams went after Pittsburgh's Alan Faneca first because of the veteran leadership they thought he could bring to the club. Faneca signed with the New York Jets instead.

Bell isn't known as a power blocker, but his strength has improved since his rookie NFL season in 2004. Looking at tape from the 2007 season, Linehan liked the way Bell performed against Carolina's Kris Jenkins and Jacksonville's Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. (Jenkins and Stroud have since switched teams.)

Bell held his own and then some against those big, powerful defensive tackles. And in what undoubtedly ranks as good news for Bulger, he didn't allow any quarterback hits in those contests.

"As the line coaches like to say, he's never on the ground," Linehan said.

In other words, despite being a relatively lean 6-foot-4, 295 pounds, Bell does not get thrown around by 340-pound defensive tackles. Although Faneca is a better run blocker, Bell probably is a better pass blocker, particularly at this stage of Faneca's career. Bell's footwork and athletic ability enable him to recover when beaten by the opponent's first move.

Even with the addition of Bell, the Rams probably aren't done retooling the interior of their offensive line. Whether it be in free agency or via trade, the Rams are still looking for veteran help at center. Last season's starters there, Brett Romberg and McCollum, are unrestricted free agents, and McCollum is contemplating retirement. The only centers on the current roster are 2007 draft pick Dustin Fry and Nick Leckey, who was added to the roster last October as a street free agent.


Former Seattle kicker Josh Brown's five-year, $14.2 million contract with the Rams includes a $4 million signing bonus plus base salaries of $1 million in 2008, $1.8 million in 2009, $2 million in 2010, $2.7 million in 2011, and $2.7 million in 2012.


Quarterback Trent Green, the Vianney High product who was with the Rams in 1999 and 2000, is scheduled to pay a free-agent visit to St. Louis on Wednesday.

Green arrived in New Orleans on Monday for a free-agent visit with the Saints.

Another former Ram, Jamie Martin, has been the Saints' backup for the past two seasons but is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.


Rams free-agent linebacker Brandon Chillar arrived in Phoenix on Monday night for a visit with the Arizona Cardinals. If Chillar doesn't sign with the Big Red, he's scheduled to leave Arizona today and arrive in Green Bay on Tuesday night.