Sunday, October 12, 2003

Palmer's time remains a mystery

QB debut will come when time is right

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jon Kitna knows the day will come when Carson Palmer replaces him as the Bengals' starting quarterback.

"I mean, that is just common sense," Kitna said. "It's nothing I've been told. If your team isn't in it, and you have the future, that's when you give the future the opportunity to get some experience and see the live bullets."

Palmer The Bengals are off today, having entered the bye week at 1-4. In the mediocre AFC North, they start the day just 1 1/2 games out of first place. They will host division-leading Baltimore a week from today, beginning a stretch of four home games in five weeks.

"But I don't believe this team is going to get there," Kitna said of the possibility of falling out of the race. "I believe that God has great things in store for this team, and I think these next five, six weeks, we can really come out of it with a 5-1, 6-0 record. No question."

A few lockers away waits Palmer, the first overall draft pick and the team's quarterback of tomorrow. When tomorrow arrives is the big question.

Coach Marvin Lewis has not mentioned a specific date when a transition would take place.

He gave Palmer most of the practice snaps this past week, reverting to a back-to-basics training camp approach without preparing for a specific opponent.

"He did a good job today," Lewis said of Palmer after a mid-week practice. "He's learning fine.

"When it's the best thing for us, we'll change."

Asked about decisions to start rookie quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Kyle Boller in Jacksonville and Baltimore, Lewis said: "That's their football team. We can't speak to their quarterback, their guy, their team."

In the NFL, coaches have to balance their desire to prepare the future quarterback with the unwritten responsibility to the rest of the team: Regardless of record, a coach owes his players the lineup that gives his team the best chance to win each week. There are no cup-of-coffee starts for quarterbacks, unlike rookie pitchers being called up from the minor leagues in baseball.

Palmer continues to put his trust in Lewis and said he is learning in practice and while watching from the sidelines.

"It's been a great opportunity to sit and watch defenses unfold and watch another quarterback play," Palmer said. "You see a lot more from the sideline than people think, and you get to go in and evaluate what you saw the next day on film. It's been very valuable time."

Still, Palmer said, like all players, he would like to play.

"But I'm taking it as a great opportunity to learn, and I'm not going to sit around and pout that I'm not in there," he said.

There are two approaches to handling rookie quarterbacks: Throw them into the fire (Boller, Peyton Manning) or make them sit for a year (Steve McNair, Michael Vick).

"There are positive models both ways," Palmer said. "I don't think there is a right method. I think it depends on the quarterback. If you're ready, you're ready. If you're not, you're not. And I wasn't ready."

Still, Palmer whetted the appetites of Bengals fans in the preseason. He went 37-for-54 passing for 451 yards and four interceptions. He has the look of Manning and Drew Bledsoe. Palmer is bigger and stronger than Kitna and backup Shane Matthews and throws the ball much harder.

For now, Palmer goes to class. As the scout-team quarterback, he works against the full-speed first-team defense. He talks to 10th-year veteran Matthews during games, listening to Matthews' critique of decisions made by opposing QBs.

The ultimate lessons remain ahead of Palmer and can only be learned in game experience.

Kitna, while trying to keep his job, has been a good teacher, Palmer said. And Kitna said Palmer is a top student.

"Right now, he's like a coach. Everything is a perfect world to a coach, because you see it from above. You see it on the screen," said Kitna, who has six touchdown passes, six interceptions and 1,164 passing yards in five starts. "But when you're (under center), it gets difficult, and you only get that from experience. When he gets behind the center, he will have a great understanding of the game."

Palmer does understand the difference between practice and game action.

"That's when you learn the most, when all of the pressure is on, it's when you're in a game and have to react like that," he said. "In practice, you can do things twice."



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