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No. 9 back in time

Posted Mar 25, 2009

Posted: 5 p.m.

DANA POINT, Calif. - The count is now about 20 diapers per day for the two-month-old Palmer twins and the cycle is as familiar as four downs. You may be changing them all the time, but they're the ones secretly changing you thoroughly and forever.

"One minute you're so exhausted and then the next minute something happens that makes you laugh or smile," says their dad and apple of the Bengals eye, Carson Palmer. "By 4 o'clock my son poops for the third time in the day. I can't do that."

Even Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis caught himself this week here at the NFL's annual league meeting wondering how fatherhood is going to affect his franchise quarterback.

"He's not going to be able to put on his sombrero and go to the golf course on Tuesday and have Shay ride around in the cart with him," Lewis said. "Maybe he will. Maybe that will be their release away from the kids, but it will be a little different. He won't be out hunting with the boys and things like that. It will be a little bit of a change."

But with two kids and his 30th birthday looming this December, Palmer is far from suffering a mid-midlife crisis. Instead, after ending the third of his five seasons injured and his latest hiatus dropping the Bengals off the AFC North cliff, Palmer is as defiant and determined as ever.

He's not babying himself for another run at what Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and the Mannings already won by the time they were 30:

The Super Bowl.

"I feel the best I've ever felt physically. My entire body feels great," Palmer said Tuesday as he enjoyed his last week at his suburban Los Angeles home before showing for Monday's start of the Bengals offseason workouts.

"That's my style. I take shots. I'm not a guy that scrambles around and runs for 15 yards. I'm a 240-pound guy. That's what I do. I stand in the pocket and throw the ball. I'm not worried at all about it."

The throwing elbow, the one that got mangled on a blitz last season by Giants cornerback Cory Webster and limited Palmer's season to four games, is "fine and ready to go," Palmer said. "I'm going to take it easy at the start. I'm sure the Bengals are going to put me on a pitch count. That's what teams do. I feel like I can throw, but I'll do what they want me to do. I'm just not going to push it."

The twins haven't changed one thing: Every spring Palmer is more upbeat than an infomercial. To hear him tell it, 30 is the new 25. Brady won his third Super Bowl when he was 27. Roethlisberger just won his second last month at 26. Last year Eli was 27 and the year before that Peyton was a month shy of 31.

Palmer, who turns 30 Dec. 27, suffered a major knee injury on his one playoff pass, and he doesn't know who his left tackle is.

"I don't think about that," said Palmer of the biological clock. "I'm actually looking forward to being older and having more experience. I feel like I know more and I've learned so much to make me a better quarterback. I think my best football is in front of me."

That's certainly how the AFC North head coaches look at him, particularly the leaders of the pack. The Bengals have never beaten the Steelers' Mike Tomlin (0-4) and the Ravens' John Harbaugh (0-2).

(Palmer does have a win over Eric Mangini, the new Browns head coach.) 

Harbaugh has a funny feeling that the preseason mags are going to make a mistake if they treat Palmer out of sight out of mind.

Roethlisberger has two rings. Derek Anderson has been to a more recent Pro Bowl than Palmer. Harbaugh's own Joe Flacco was everyone's AFC Rookie of the Year leading Baltimore to the AFC championship game.

"We have the third or fourth best quarterback in the division and we've got a tremendous guy," Harbaugh said this week. "Certainly you've got two proven guys. Carson Palmer is one of the best quarterbacks in the league."

Tomlin says Anderson and Brady Quinn in Cleveland show the depth of what each team has to face offensively.

"You think about the guys we face. It's a very competitive division and it starts with the quality of the quarterbacks," Tomlin said. "I don't think if you're a coach you've forgotten about Carson Palmer. We know what he's capable of doing."

Harbaugh lived it last year when he made his NFL debut against Palmer in what turned out to be the worst game of his career. But the preparation that began months before with then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was sobering for Harbaugh.

"He makes you change the whole game plan," Harbaugh said of Palmer. "He can make every throw and he sees the whole field. And he understands our defense and he knows how to attack it because he sees it so much. So that's a concern."

The concern for Bengaldom starts with Palmer's protection. He doesn't know if the Bengals will draft a left tackle No. 1, but he does know that he has confidence in a guy like Dan Santucci, a good friend who looks to be competing with Kyle Cook for the No. 1 center job even though neither has taken an NFL snap.

Palmer thinks a young center is OK flanked by veteran guards like Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth.

"What you really need from a center is knowing that he's smart enough to do it and I think Santucci is a smart kid that has it in him," Palmer said. "Whoever it is, you've got two great veterans next to them and I wouldn't worry about them at all.

"I'm not worried about the line. They're going to get ready. They'll be fine. We're going to be different, but we've got some good players. I'm worried about doing my job so that I can help those guys do their job."

If Palmer doesn't talk about the clock ticking, he certainly went into overdrive to try and keep T.J. Houshmandzadeh and then court Laveranues Coles. During NFL free agency, his cell phone become more famous than Obama's Blackberry in his efforts to get people around him.

There are only four players left on the Bengals who were here the day they made Palmer the No. 1 pick in 2003, so now, more than ever, this is his team.

"I'm excited about getting there because we've got a lot of work to do and I think it's going to be a different kind of team," Palmer said. "Laveranues is a guy that brings some explosiveness and we're going to have Ced (Cedric Benson) right from the get go. And our defense is just going to get better and better.

"Yeah, I think we can win it. That's the great thing about this league: You can turn it around in a year. We've all seen the teams that have done it."

Palmer says he hasn't talked to wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco and doesn't know what his plans are. But Palmer made it clear that he's as refreshed as he's ever been in mind and spirit.

"Really, I'm pumped up about it all starting," he said. "I love the practicing on the field in the spring, hanging out with the guys, playing basketball, joking around, getting to know each other.  I love that time of the year."

Palmer knows the kids make it different. But it's not like it was a quarterback sneak.

"Shay and I are lucky. We've got brothers and sisters who all have kids and we've seen how it's done," he said. "We've really been looking forward to it. It's fun, and we've got a lot of family surrounding us."

The count is 20 diapers and about four hours a sleep a night.

"That's OK. I never get any more than that, anyway," Palmer said. "That's all I need."

It sounds like he's not kidding around.

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