Top NFL draft pick Palmer gets first taste of pro football

Posted: Monday, May 05, 2003

CINCINNATI Wearing a bright orange jersey and an unfamiliar number, Carson Palmer took his first NFL snaps during the Cincinnati Bengals' minicamp this weekend.

Jon Kitna and Akili Smith ran more plays, but No. 1 draft pick Palmer got most of the attention from dozens of fans watching practice at the invitation of the team's radio station.

It wasn't difficult to tell which quarterback was the star in the making.

'Johnny B. Goode.' You guys remember that movie?'' Kitna said. Southern California, 6-foot-5, blond-haired. I think he has blue eyes, nice tan, all that stuff. He's the perfect guy.

You look up quarterback' (in the dictionary) and see a little picture of Carson.''

Well, not quite yet. The Heisman Trophy winner has a long way to go before he gets his name in any reference book other than the team's media guide, which won't be printed for a couple of months.

Replicas of his Bengals jersey are available for $65 on the team's Web site the only jersey currently advertised online but it has his new No. 9 instead of the No. 3 he wore in college at Southern California.

In Cincinnati, it's Kitna's number and Kitna's job, for the moment.

Even though they call me the starter this year, that's not true,'' Kitna said. That is not true. Go out and fall flat on your face, or if Akili or Carson lights it up, I don't care who you are, they will take you out. That's the nature of the beast.''

In the past, rookie quarterbacks have been swallowed whole by this team's impatience.

The Bengals took David Klingler with the sixth overall pick in 1992, then got into a contract dispute that wiped out his training camp. Klingler wasn't prepared when the Bengals made him the starter midway through his rookie season, a move that stunted his career.

The same thing happened with Smith, the third overall pick in the 1999 draft. He got less than one full season to prove himself, then got dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart.

First-year coach Marvin Lewis gives the impression he won't make the same mistake by throwing Palmer in too soon. Lewis also realizes he has to win games right away to change perceptions of the NFL's worst team, so it's best for the rookie quarterback to sit.

Lewis hasn't decided where Palmer will be on the depth chart No. 3, meaning he would play only in an emergency, or No. 2, where he's one injury away from getting thrown into a game.

I can't answer that question,'' Lewis said. Our reason for drafting Carson was that we were comfortable with him being our second quarterback, so we felt that good about him.''

The overriding question is how long it will take Palmer to get comfortable enough to run the offense. After he signed a seven-year contract that includes $14 million in bonuses, Palmer started learning the playbook over the phone with quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.

Palmer got some classroom work during the weekend minicamp.

Maybe the area he impressed me more than anything was the grasp of things in a short period of time with limited meetings,'' offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said.

Palmer is learning the offense in phases and can't predict when he'll know it all.

I wish there was a certain date where I will have it,'' Palmer said. That's not how it works at all. Right now, there's no real timetable or real date when I can say I'm going to know the offense.''

While he learns, the rest of the team patiently waits.

Carson's a great pick,'' running back Corey Dillon said. He's going to do wonders for us. In due time, he should be a good quarterback.''

In the meantime, he's a rookie.

I'm happy to have a rookie in my position group,'' Kitna said. It's always nice because they have to pay for everything and he has a lot of money to pay for it.''

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