Johnson was on the field a day after suffering a groin injury. (Bengals photo)
But head coach Marvin Lewis said his quarterback most likely will be practicing the next time the Bengals take the field July 29 at Georgetown College to open training camp.
But when he closed the Bengals mandatory minicamp after Saturday morning's practice, Lewis said he didn't know if Palmer would be taking the starter's snaps and he indicated Palmer won't play in the Aug. 13 preseason opener against the Redskins at Paul Brown Stadium.
Before an Open House practice at PBS Saturday morning, Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson suited up for the final workout before training camp with tape covering the high left thigh of his bright orange jumpsuit. But the tape was quickly discarded and he went through the entire practice after Lewis said he left Friday's second practice with a "strained core muscle."
Palmer didn't work Saturday, but the rest wasn't because of soreness or swelling. The idea was to rest Palmer's reconstructed left knee after taking the bulk of the quarterback snaps in Friday's two practices.
The Bengals were extremely encouraged when Palmer was able to strap it up Friday morning after his first major work of the spring in Thursday's double session.
Coach Lewis Press Conference
Another factor in resting Palmer is that the fifth practice in 48 hours was on the harder artificial surface of PBS rather than the grass practice fields. He wanted to go, but he also said, "You've got to be smart with it."
Still, Palmer doesn't feel like he's ahead of schedule.
"Not really. I'd like to be full speed and be completely healthy right now. Just because I'm greedy a little bit," Palmer said. "It feels good. I still have two months to really get it better. It feels strong. Everything feels good right now."
"What I do and what he does are two completely different things," Kieft said. "My job is to stop 300-pounders from hitting him, so I have to use my 300 pounds to their 300 pounds. That's 600 pounds of pressure on my knee compared to 220 on his. I wanted to make sure I was going to be ready for the season, rather than have a setback so I could be in minicamp."
Plus, Kieft suffered more damage. He had been penciled in to return to workouts two weeks ago, but the Bengals decided not to rush it.
Kieft thinks he'll be ready, but Lewis says Kieft and running back Chris Perry are the only players who might not be ready for that first practice in, yes, just 41 days.
On Saturday running back Kenny Watson (dislocated finger), wide receivers Bennie Brazell (infection) and P.K. Sam (leg), defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (hamstring), long snapper Brad St. Louis (chest muscle) and defensive tackle Sam Adams (?) joined Palmer on the sidelines.
St. Louis has missed the last two weeks, which gave rookie center Ben Wilkerson plenty of opportunity to get used to long snapping with his knee brace. It also took defensive end Justin Smith out of mothballs as a snapper with some work there for the first time in a couple of years. Lewis praised them, but no one looks close to unseating St. Louis.
In Lewis's three seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals have finished 28th in defense twice. But the club is banking on the addition of Adams and safety Dexter Jackson, the return of safety Madieu Williams, the emergence of David Pollack, and the second year of Chuck Bresnahan's system to turn that around.
Lewis certainly has high goals. In 2004, the second year of Leslie Frazier's scheme, the Bengals went from 28 to 19 but Frazier still got let go.
"Whether we're going to be a top 10 defense or not depends how we play in a lot of other areas," Lewis said. "If we continue to run the ball with the success we have on offense, we have a chance to be a top 10 defense. There aren't many defenses in the league that are in the top 10 that can't run the football on offense."
Let's see. The Bengals were 11th in the league in rushing. Of the 10 teams ahead of them, seven of the defenses finished no worse than tied for 16th.
Lewis said he's also reviewing how the Bengals use the No Huddle offense because it puts the defense back on the field faster. When the Bengals went to a steady diet of the No Huddle in the last eight games, they had the ball longer than their foes three times. Before that stretch, they won the clock in seven of the previous nine games. The last eight games matched the slide on defense.
"I like to score a lot of points and I like to score them fast," Lewis said. "But we have to make sure we can grind when we need to grind. In '03, '04, we ground the football when we needed to. We were able to handle people physically and grind and take the pressure off."
"He's got more body mass. It hasn't seemed to slow him a bit," Lewis said. "When you get a chance to sit back and watch other people play and listen to other people and get to analyze the game from outside in and I think that's how you come back into it. It gives you a different perspective.
"I see that about him," Lewis said. "He's more vocal ... he's become a leader, he's kind of leading the way than someone taking him by the hand."
Into the mix for Williams as his safety partner comes Jackson, an eight-year veteran not very pleased Tampa Bay found him expendable after being in the middle of their No. 1 defense a couple of times.
"Dexter's a bulldog," Lewis said. "He's going to give a lot of fight to guys. He's very intense ... he also has something to prove."
"He's going to have to show he can contribute as a receiver," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
McNeal is trying to make the transition from the nation's most exciting quarterback to NFL receiver and the one thing Lewis has noticed about his sixth-rounder is that he's "got a lot different body than when we brought him in. He's morphed a little bit. I know his body fat has come down quite a bit."
Receivers coach Hue Jackson says there is only one thing he wants McNeal to work on between now and training camp ("run"), and just get used to running.
"He's not frustrated by the switch. Some guys can't handle it," Jackson said. "He's handled it well. He'll be a heck of a player."
McNeal threw some balls as a quarterback, ran a few plays as a quarterback, and threw some balls as a wideout. He says it's cut and dried. When he plays quarterback, he takes off the gloves. When he plays receiver, he keeps them on. Yes, he can throw wearing them.
I've got big hands," he said.
Houshmandzadeh, his biggest fan before he arrived, still thinks McNeal can play NFL quarterback.
"It's going to be interesting to see what happens because he can throw the ball," said Houshmandzadeh, who has been one of his mentors in the route running game. "With him, he just has to do it and do it over again."
That's a closer comparison to Steinbach than Steve Hutchinson because nether Steinbach or Andrews have been to a Pro Bowl and Steinbach has been in the league just a year longer than him.
"I said something about thanks for helping me out," Steinbach said.
Where the Bengals come down on Steinbach, right tackle Willie Anderson, and left tackle Levi Jones is still in flux. But this much we know. The Bengals traditionally haven't given big money to guards (Steinbach) or long-term deals to guys in their 30s (Anderson), and Steinbach and Jones prefer an extension beyond next year to be hammered out by the time the Bengals open training camp July 29.
"I don't think it's in my interests if I'm that close to free agency," Jones said of signing an extension after camp opens.
Steinbach said he has told agent Jack Bechta that once camp comes, he wants to hear nothing about it. He said Bechta can talk to the team, but Bechta has indicated he won't talk after camp starts, either.
"It's something we'll talk about, but we haven't set a deadline or anything like that," Steinbach said. "I want to focus totally on football."
OPEN HOUSE: About 7,000 fans attended Saturday morning's Medical Mutual Open House. They were treated to a big day by Houshmandzadeh, with at least three red-zone touchdown passes from backup quarterback Anthony Wright. Chad Johnson tossed one TD bomb into the stands (safety Tony Bua said he was out of bounds) and there were a couple of "Rudi, Rudi" chants. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons also won a few hearts and minds by chucking a ball into the front row after a holding drill.
Lewis enjoyed putting his young players in front of a crowd.
"It's an opportunity to see players you don't know as well react in that situation," Lewis said. "There's a little more excitement, a little bit more poise. ... You have to be able to handle it and do it right.
"It's great for the fans. It brings some excitement to them. It gives them a chance for the first time to see some new players that they've read about, heard about, saw play somewhere else whether it be on another NFL team or in college. ... To have it right here in Cincinnati and have an opportunity for our fans to come down and the kids to get to see the players like that."
One of the kids was Shane Blount, 11, a student at Merwin Elementary who got to park his wheelchair close to the action down on the field. Because of his wheelchair, he doesn't have a very good chance to get autographs, so when the 20-minute signing period came Saturday, he was in a good spot for Chad Johnson to check out his matching Mohawk haircut. Except Shane went one better and dyed one side orange and one side black
"Chad said he was going to copy me," Shane said.
Most popular new player?
Judging by the crowd buzz and cheers, no doubt, it was Adams.