Friday, April 25, 2003

No debate: Kitna is still starter


Palmer will wait turn while learning from veteran QB

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jon Kitna remains the Bengals' starting quarterback heading into the 2003 season, even though the organization invested up to $49 million Thursday in Carson Palmer. And Palmer knows it.

"Jon Kitna is the starter. He's a veteran. I'm just a young punk rookie who's coming in, and I'll learn from him," Palmer said Thursday, just minutes after signing his seven-year contract.

"Being a rookie, I have a great opportunity to learn from a guy who has been in the league, has had success and knows this offense. Having him as a mentor is going to be great for me."

Kitna has said repeatedly that he will help the rookie.

"If a person has a question, I'm willing to sit down with them and tell them," Kitna has said. "Whoever the three quarterbacks are, I try to have a good, positive relationship with them. I'm not going to be keeping things from people."

Palmer is the third quarterback the Bengals have drafted in the first round since 1992.

And with his signing Thursday, two days before his official selection, he will be the first of the three not to miss a single practice in a contract holdout.

If things go as planned, Palmer also will be the first one not rushed into service.

David Klingler, taken with the sixth overall pick in 1992, missed all of his first training camp and didn't sign until Aug. 30, one week before the opener. He started the last five games of his rookie season in a simplified offense.

Former coach Dave Shula knew the risks and said, "It might just happen" that Klingler would lose his confidence.

Akili Smith, the third overall pick in 1999, missed 27 days of training camp before signing. Smith started four games as a rookie before being lost for the season with a turf toe injury. Smith said he is happy for Palmer.

"He couldn't even begin to fathom what we went through four years ago," Smith said at minicamp two weeks ago.

The Bengals apparently will follow one of two theories on handling a rookie quarterback - grooming him on the bench behind a veteran.

Recent examples where that plan has worked include the Titans (Steve McNair), Jets (Chad Pennington), Falcons (Michael Vick) and Chargers (Drew Brees).

McNair, the No. 3 overall pick in 1995, started two games as a rookie and four in his second season. He played behind veteran Chris Chandler and started only when Chandler was hurt.

Chandler also was Atlanta's starter in 2001 ahead of Vick.

Pennington played behind Vinny Testaverde in New York for two full seasons before earning the starting job last season.

Brees, the first pick of the second round in 2001, played a season behind Doug Flutie in San Diego.

"It definitely will be tough," Palmer said. "I'll want to be on the field and want to be contributing. It's also a great opportunity for me to learn and sit back and absorb the NFL and absorb the offense."

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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