Carson Palmer Hopeful T.O. Can Help Bengals Reach the Super Bowl
Last month there -- before Bengals training camp practices began here last Thursday at Georgetown College -- it was Palmer ripping passes to Wes Welker. To T.J. Houshmandzadeh. To Sammie Parker and USC's Anthony Johnson. To a mixture of other receivers, some well-known, others undistinguished.
It was late last month, Palmer remembers it being the second or third week of July, when his group of receivers grew by one.
"I looked up and there was T.O. coming across the field," Palmer said. "He just showed up one day. I had been working on my five-step-footwork-to-the-left. I just told him, 'Jump in, man.''' And I just remember thinking, 'This guy can still run. This guy is still fast.'''
From that park, from that playground, from the genesis of those tosses, Palmer now has a new Bengals receiving weapon. It is Terrell Owens flashing at Bengals camp now and it has long been Chad Ochocinco doing the same here. These "diva'' receivers highlight a remaking, a recasting of the pass-catching weapons around Palmer. It's all groundwork now -- but "the sky is the limit,'' Palmer says.
"I'd say that was a smart move by them,'' Palmer said of T.O. and his handlers picking that Manhattan Beach park for a, uh, workout session. "We're into the process of integrating his body language, the feeling of how his hips sink out of breaks, understanding his body type overall, those type of things that I have known for eight years with Chad, into this offense. These are the crucial things you must know that keep you from having to stare at your receivers during games, something you can't do because of pressure and coverage, anyway.
"There has been a lot negative said about it [the Bengals signing T.O. just before their camp opened]. I remember the articles in San Francisco, in Philadelphia, the negative ones when he was leaving. But I tell you, Cedric Benson had a bad rap when he got here and he's a great dude and I like him a lot. Chris Henry had that bad reputation but all of those perceptions were not true. I still haven't made up my mind on Terrell. I'm still getting to know him. But right now, what I see is he is busting his tail and is being a professional and trying to help us be in position to win football games.''
What Carson Palmer also sees in this, his eighth NFL season, is quarterbacking in a new way, his Bengals offense in a new light, his leadership and voice and talent all now more firm, more secure. His stress and battle with serious and nagging injuries over.
He said the Bengals have a locker room too strong to allow T.O. or any player to tear it down. That their divisional championship followed by their playoff loss a year ago to the Jets has kept their feet afire.
Especially his own.
When people want to say that Carson Palmer has to get back to being that guy, that quarterback who relentlessly dials it, who tosses more than 30 touchdowns and for more than 4,000 yards a season and guides the Bengals to victory with his arm foremost, well, Palmer says you should pay little attention to that.
It's what he does.
"I know so much more about what it takes to win in the AFC North now and more about quarterbacking in this league; I mean, I've had a true education,'' Palmer said. "In our division, you get 120-plus rushing yards, you win games. It's how the division is built. It's how our team is now built. We had games last year where we had three tackle sets, with the tight end out, and ran the ball with force. You can't even pass much out of that if you wanted to. I've learned that I don't need to throw it 35 times a game if 18 or 20 and a power running is the recipe for winning.
"Now, maybe with the changes we have made, maybe with Terrell, we might change a little. But I can't see us changing a lot. Our defense is too good to take a lot of chances in the passing game. I've grown into a quarterback where if I see a guy deep and there is a 20 percent chance of hitting it, but over here, I've got a receiver short where there is an 80 percent chance of making a solid play, I'm taking the 80 percent. And I do that knowing there is nothing in this game I feel I can't do as a quarterback. Not a throw I feel I can't make. Sometimes you stick it in there. More times you don't.''
This is called managing the game in today's NFL vernacular. This is what Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wants. He believes the "new'' Palmer is improved.
"People keep talking about Carson's big year in 2005,'' Lewis said, when Palmer led the league in touchdown passes with 32 but was injured in the Bengals' playoff opener vs. Pittsburgh following that season, a game they lost. "That was a team with two dominant tackles. It had some young but experienced players around him. We have sort of morphed as an offense into different things since then. We have asked Carson to become a smarter and more efficient quarterback. He has done that. He has led us down the field in fourth quarters and won games. We just want him and all 11 guys to do what it takes to win that game that week. And Carson really understands that. Just keep being Carson and that's the best thing we can have.''
Palmer has his new prize-receiving duo. He has three new eye-catching rookie weapons in receivers Jordan Shipley and Dezmon Briscoe and tight end Jermaine Gresham. And Palmer says don't forget about receiver Antonio Bryant. If he is healthy, Palmer insists, he can do "amazing'' things.
We could see this group begin to mesh on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game. Palmer, who turns 31 on Dec. 27, insists that rookies are rookies. They take time to develop. And that he has played with receivers and backs in their prime in Cincinnati who had a flair for making big plays possibly beyond this new crew's.
He wants to keep things cool. Be patient. Work on the little things. Leave the bigger things for bigger times. He seems calm and collected at this camp. In fact, after last season's "Hard Knocks" TV exposure in Bengals camp, he said this camp is much calmer. He thinks it can be more enjoyable.
There is excitement around him.
He seems serene.
"It's way too early and way too dangerous to get caught up in what can happen, if this first preseason game against Dallas could be a Super Bowl matchup like some are saying, way too much ahead of all of us to think in any of those terms,'' Palmer said. "I just want us to go out each practice and in this first preseason game and be efficient. That's what you focus on.
"But, I have always had dreams. I dream of what the week of a Super Bowl is like. I have those dreams from time to time. I have had dreams of the Super Bowl since I was a little kid. You visualize that as a kid. Me in the yard by myself. Three seconds left. I have to throw one over the tree and into the trash can in the corner to win the game. And I did that 65 times a day because it was so hard to do.''
It is a grand Bengals plan -- just let Carson be Carson.
The educated one.