Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Palmer's USC mentor sees more mature QB



By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Players and coaches are like children and parents. Changes in the youngsters can't be measured easily because of daily contact.

Such is the case with Bengals first-time starting quarterback Carson Palmer.

Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski may not see more than incremental growth in Palmer because they work together daily.

But Norm Chow, Palmer's offensive coordinator for two seasons at Southern Cal, saw plenty of improvement in his former player Tuesday during practice at Paul Brown Stadium.

"I like what I see: a mature, confident young guy," Chow said.

Chow, who helped Palmer throw for 46 touchdowns and more than 6,600 yards in two years at USC, stopped in Cincinnati for one day to visit with the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

Palmer missed Chad Johnson on a slant pattern, and rookie cornerback Keiwan Ratliff grabbed the errant pass for an interception.

"Just the way he handles himself - he threw an interception today, and it didn't bother him," Chow said of Palmer. "He got back into the huddle. I think that comes with experience and maturity."

Palmer has been working since early March as the starter. He replaces Jon Kitna in the lineup, though Kitna was fifth in the AFC with an 87.4 passer rating and led the Bengals to their most victories - eight - since 1996.

The Bengals are in the midst of 14 on-field practice sessions allowed in the offseason.

Teammates working with Palmer for the first time since his promotion have seen a change.

Palmer and tight end Matt Schobel talked for a few minutes outside the weight room following practice Tuesday.

"He's more assertive now," Schobel said. "He's always been one of the guys. He's still one of the guys, but he's also taken more of a leadership role."

How? "More of the conversations you have with him are football-related these days," Schobel said. "He learned a lot last year; he picked up the offense. But now he's actually in there."

The topic Tuesday was a pass route on which Schobel and Palmer failed to connect.

"Little, bitty, fine details, trying to get on the same page; 'What you see, what I see,' " Schobel said of the discussion. "Sometimes it comes across in a humorous way, but it's always serious."

As Kitna did as the starter, Palmer is spending more time at the series of lockers occupied by the team's wide receivers.

Second-year left guard Eric Steinbach was the Bengals' second draft choice in 2003, following Palmer. The two players are friends off the field - where Palmer's personality has remained the same, those close to him say - but Palmer has changed on the field.

"He seems like, for a new guy, real composed," Steinbach said. "He knows where his three different looks are. When I'm watching, I'll see him look at all three reads, not just his primary receiver. He just looks more comfortable."

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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