Saturday, May 8, 2004

Palmer takes control of offense


Lewis confident quarterback will evolve into a team leader

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Carson Palmer's behavior Friday betrayed his depth-chart promotion.

Practicing for the first time as the Bengals' starting quarterback at the rookie mini-camp practice, Palmer acted much the same as he did as a backup a year ago.

PHOTO GALLERY
photo gallery
Photos of Friday's practice
He was business-like and largely understated, moving with ease through the two-hour workout, though every eye was on him.

"I didn't feel like I had to do anything different," Palmer would say later. "I didn't do anything different. I just knew what to do."

The practice Friday, the first of the three-day rookie mini-camp, was rigged primarily for Palmer to get on-field passing work with his wide receivers against over-matched defenders. The veterans, including Palmer and Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson, will be gone today. It's all rookies the rest of the weekend.

The torch surely has been passed. The face of the team has changed.

Incumbent starter Jon Kitna, demoted in Palmer's favor by coach Marvin Lewis, was not present Friday. Kitna's absence was presumably arranged to give Palmer more work and more space.

Gone, too, was Corey Dillon's acrid personality, which had previously permeated the locker room even in his absence. He was traded to New England three weeks ago for a second-round draft pick.

Lewis in the offseason weeded out several more holdover players from the 2-14 team in 2002.

It's Palmer's team now, though he is quick to share the mantle of leadership with some of his accomplished teammates.

"We have a lot of veteran guys here who have been in the league for a long time; we have two guys (Johnson and right tackle Willie Anderson) who went to the Pro Bowl last year," Palmer said. "It's not like a first-year guy coming in with a lot of rookies around.

"But I definitely feel like, being the quarterback, whether it's your first year in the league or your 21st, you still have to step up and take command of the team. I'm ready for that."

Lewis, asked repeatedly at his post-practice news conference why he made the move to Palmer, made his strongest statement to date.

"He's got the most skill and ability of anybody we've got in the building," the coach said.

Palmer flashed his big-play ability during practice. His performance also hinted at the mistakes that will likely happen as he learns. He has yet to take an NFL snap.

He threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Patrick Johnson, who beat rookie cornerback Keiwan Ratliff.

"He got the ball in there in some of the zones that I really haven't seen a quarterback do," said Ratliff, the team's first second-round pick. "Just watching him on TV and hearing about him, when you get on the field with him and sometimes you feel like you have a receiver blanketed and he gets it in there, you realize just how good he is."

Rookie safety Madieu Williams and rookie linebacker Caleb Miller intercepted Palmer once.

"Some good, some not so good," is how offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski described Palmer's day. "Just what we expected."

Good or bad, Palmer does not tip his mood. His reaction doesn't reveal whether he has thrown a pick or a TD.

"Nothing has changed with him," Lewis said when asked about Palmer's demeanor. "That's why we picked him. It's all part of it. Nothing is too big or too small for him. He has a very even keel. We like that about him. He can handle the ups and downs of it and not seem to reflect on it and not have it wear him down."

Lewis is confident that Palmer will grow into a team leader.

"Leadership comes with that position, but you can't go in and expect to talk about it," Lewis said. "You've got to lead and do things. He has been a hard-working guy since he got here. He doesn't have anything to prove. He just has to play his position and do his part."

Chad Johnson is not worried. "He did real good. He's Carson Palmer. He's the No. 1 pick. He handled everything real well. All the passes were there," Johnson said.

"He's still the same. I'm sure he's going to pick up things he learned from Jon last year. When it's time for him to step up when things get sloppy, I'm sure he will."

---

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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ONLINE EXTRA: Photos of Friday's practice
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