Sunday, April 20, 2003

Pick Palmer, pray he doesn't play

The best thing Carson Palmer has going for him is Jon Kitna. Kitna will play while Palmer learns how. The Bengals should draft the Southern Cal QB and Heisman Trophy winner because sooner or later, Palmer's young-adult brain will catch up to his fully grown body. And just maybe, the Bengals will have the quarterback they've sought since Boomer Esiason.

Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman is not the first overall pick, even with his Deion potential. Sanders was the best cover corner ever, but Prime Time was never more than a best supporting actor to Steve Young and Troy Aikman. Great corners are easier to find than great quarterbacks.

You could argue that Newman gives the Bengals the best chance to win now. Don't get ahead of yourself. They aren't ready to win now. Marvin Lewis could be a very good coach. He isn't bringing loaves and fishes.

Palmer looks like he came from the QB Factory: Six-five, 235, cut like Adonis. Big enough to shrug blitzing defensive backs, strong enough to zip a 15-yard out pass. Unlike the Bengals' previous two first-round QBs, Palmer is also a football wonk. "He should have laces in the back of his head," says Petros Papadakis, USC's tailback between 1998 and 2000.

Ask Papadakis what Palmer likes to do away from the game, Papadakis says: "Find someone to catch the ball. Or watch tape." Maybe this wasn't the answer you got when you asked people about David Klingler and Akili Smith.

Palmer also has had practice wearing the hero suit. The Trojans were a mess when he got there. He started the last half of his freshman year, broke his collarbone in the third game the following season, then led the Pacific-10 in interceptions in 2000. Blame that on former coach Paul Hackett's West Coast offense, which looks great when Joe Montana runs it. Don't expect a college kid to master it.

As Papadakis puts it, "It was raining cats and dogs, bad stuff, when Hackett was at SC."

Let him watch, learn

Palmer emerged from the hype and confusion to be the best college QB in America last fall. "When he got there, the (offensive) line was bad, the situation was bad, (Hackett's) offense was too much for him to learn. But he handled the whole situation with the utmost poise," says Papadakis.

The Bengals twice have mishandled first-round quarterbacks. But Kenny Anderson isn't here anymore, and the team isn't as desperate for good news as it was in those cases. The team (mis)used Klingler and Smith to peddle hope. They've got Lewis to sell hope now.

Given their failures with Klingler and Smith, you have to believe the Bengals wouldn't rush Palmer. If you're looking for warning signs, there are a few: Pac-10 defenses are leaky on the whole. And Papadakis adds, "(Palmer) has trouble with decision-making." A few years watching and learning might cure him of that.

As good as Newman might be, if you think the speed of the NFL confuses a QB, try talking to a defensive back after his NFL debut. He's spinning like a top. Would Newman be better this year than Artrell Hawkins? Nope.

Take a stab at potential very good-ness, at the most important position on the field. Then give the kid some serious clipboard time. He actually might have a future here.



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