Jump to content

Rising stars: Palmer, QB`s


Recommended Posts

Rising stars: Palmer, McGahee and Fitzgerald

By Tom Pedulla and Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY

Another training camp practice was almost over when the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer and his fellow quarterbacks proved that men can be boys. They began dropping back and aiming spirals at an empty barrel 30 yards away in an impromptu drill designed mostly for laughs. Only one young man did not find it so funny when the franchise's supposed savior kept missing.

"Come on, Palmer," the young fan called out. "Don't choke!"

Welcome to the world of great expectations, Carson. Be braced at every turn.

Cincinnati fans saw the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner make enough strides last year to believe they finally have the quarterback to lead them to their first winning season, and first playoff berth, since 1990.

Palmer's teammates view him the same way. "They call him the golden boy," says wide receiver Chad Johnson. "Just watch him work."

Even third-year Bengals coach Marvin Lewis contributes to the hype. "Anybody who's ever spent any time around Carson knows he's an amazing guy," he says.

Some youngsters take music instruction. Palmer showed such promise that his family paid for private quarterbacking lessons when he was in the seventh grade.

As for lofty expectations, well, he shares them. After he completed 263 of 432 passes for 2,897 yards with 18 touchdowns and an equal number of interceptions, his declared goal for this season is to throw for four times as many scores as interceptions.

"Just looking at quarterbacks who are quarterbacks on winning teams," he says, "they didn't turn the ball over very much and they threw lots of touchdowns."

Everything about Palmer, from his demeanor to his gradually increased production last year after a rookie season spent watching, says he can deliver on his vast promise.

"He's got premier talent," Lewis says. "We've got to get all our guys clicking, and we're trying to do that. That's the challenge for our football team."

While first-round quarterback busts David Klingler and Akili Smith will forever be part of Cincinnati's bleak history, there is ample evidence that the Bengals finally have a passer who will justify his billing. His Southern California career culminated in school single-season records for completions (309), passing yards (3,942) and touchdowns (33) when he was a senior.

Palmer fashioned a 96.9 passer rating in his final six games last year, a huge step forward from his 62.6 rating the first seven games. In comparing his first seven games to his last six before a strained knee ligament ended his season, his accuracy rose from 55.1 to 68.6%, his yards per completion went from 5.9 to 7.7, and his touchdowns increased from 0.7 a game to 2.2.

"It took me longer than what I wanted," Palmer says, "but I started to feel better about my abilities. I started to feel confident about myself as the year went on. Things really start to slow down. You start to process information faster at the line of scrimmage. You can do it in college, but college is a whole different world from the pros."

At 6-5, 230 pounds, Palmer is the prototype of an NFL passer. He has shown good character to go with that and immediately gained the respect of teammates when he was a rookie by accepting a backup role to Jon Kitna without complaint.

Lewis, after inheriting a 2-14 disaster, was convinced long-suffering veterans needed to see immediate results if they were to buy into his program. Palmer understood.

"We didn't need a rookie going out there and struggling that year," he says.

So he watched and learned as the Bengals made dramatic improvement with the first of consecutive 8-8 seasons that bode well for a breakthrough now despite a bumpy preseason.

"What we do this year," Johnson says, "is going to be magic."


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rising stars: Lewis and Grimm

By Tom Pedulla and Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY

Ask Willie Anderson. Ask the Pro Bowl offensive tackle about the hope Marvin Lewis brought to the Cincinnati Bengals when he arrived three years ago and transformed the NFL's sorriest franchise into a possible playoff contender this season.

"It was real bad before, I will put it like that, as far as what we were being told and how we played football," Anderson says. "We were being told the wrong things, man."

Those who consider Lewis' bottom line from a distance — consecutive 8-8 records — might question why he has the potential to emerge as one of the league's finest coaches. That skepticism dissolves as soon as Anderson elaborates about life before Lewis.

• The 10-year veteran says special teams were so lightly regarded that players routinely skipped those meetings. "It was so lackadaisical around here."

• If Cincinnati was preparing to oppose a particularly tough defense, the Bengals' confidence was shaken before they took the field. Coaches would tell them they probably wouldn't score many points.

• The locker room contained too many "bad apples," Anderson says. Players routinely arrived through either free agency or the draft who cared little about winning.

To gain an even greater perspective on the turnaround Lewis is engineering, consider how poorly the three coaches who preceded him fared. Dave Shula struggled at 19-52 (.268), Bruce Coslet went 21-39 (.350) and Dick LeBeau could not do better than 12-33 (.267).

Cincinnati's 8-8 mark upon Lewis' arrival in 2003, which followed a 2-14 nightmare, made the Bengals the NFL's most improved team that season. Lewis placed second to Bill Belichick of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in voting for coach of the year.

The Bengals' most recent 8-8 record also represented an achievement. The club withstood the growing pains of first-year quarterback Carson Palmer and a wave of season-ending injuries that claimed 18 players.

Now Lewis and his revived Bengals are convinced they are positioned for the franchise's first winning season and their first postseason berth since 1990.

"Accepting mediocrity is the one thing, more than anything, that you can't do," he says.

He knows what it takes to be part of a championship, having overseen the Baltimore Ravens' record-setting defense when they rode that unit to the NFL title in 2000. He is doing everything he can to impart that to players who are still learning what it takes to win.

"The difference between teams who win six games and teams who win 10 games is so small," Lewis says. "That's part of the challenge, conveying to players how small it is."

The key for any coach is having his attention to detail translate into meticulous execution on the field.

First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan uses one word — "incredible" — to describe Lewis' preparation.

"He's very progressive in his thinking, trying to stay one step ahead instead of (the) status quo," Bresnahan says. "He will adjust things on the fly.

"There's no uneasiness or you're not sure of something. You know exactly what is expected. He lays out a plan, he lays out groundwork and you go to work."

Lewis won over Cincinnati's long-suffering fans. The franchise has set regular-season home attendance records each of the last two years.

He won over his players.

"Coach Lewis came in and changed the attitude," running back Rudi Johnson says. "He changed the face of the team."

But no one knows better than the hard-driving Lewis that, for all he has accomplished, he ultimately will be judged the way all coaches are judged.

By winning.

"You have to go prove it," he says.

Reader voting: Coaches

Marvin Lewis 37 %

Jim Mora 22 %

Mike Mularkey 17 %

Jack Del Rio 14 %

Love Smith 10%

Reader voting: Asst. coaches

Russ Grimm 28 %

Eric Mangini 22 %

Maurice Carthon 18 %

Brad Childress 18 %

Donnie Henderson 14 %


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...