The ante, not to mention the speed, has been raised in Carson Palmer's throwing program now that Bengals rehab director Nick Cosgray is splitting the catches with some receivers and is about to be demoted for good by guys like Matt Sherry and Antonio Chatman.
"(His hands) are suspect and his arm is worse," said Palmer, but his smile told you that he thinks Cosgray "has done a phenomenal job," along with the rest of the Bengals medical staff building his throwing elbow back with therapy instead of surgery after suffering a slight tear of the ulna collateral ligament in his throwing elbow Sept. 21 against the Giants.
Palmer said the arm feels like it did before the injury, that he's back to 80 percent, and hopes to be back at 100 percent within the next two weeks. He says then, and only then, will he know for sure he doesn't need surgery. (Thursday Injury Report)
Which if it's done in the next month and if it's anything like Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme's procedure, he'd be back throwing by the start of training camp or early in camp.
But the vibe still is no surgery as he continues to jump through each hoop. The tentative plan now is to throw during the offseason and be ready for the May camps if he can cut it loose at 100 percent throwing routes in the next 10 days or so. With the majority of his five doctors advising against surgery, he believes the gamble would be in having surgery and not the other way around.
"The feedback was so negative because of the progress of rehab and the timing of rehab," Palmer said. "And the success rate of rehab. That's why I've been so leery of having it, and hopefully I don't have to do it."
In the professional opinion of his receivers, Palmer looks just fine in showing the arm strength he had before he suffered his elbow injury against blitzing Giants cornerback Corey Webster and what he did in his last outing in Dallas Oct. 5.
"He was throwing it real good today. Nick dropped about half of them, but Antonio and Matt Sherry caught some," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "I would bet all the money I've got that he (won't have surgery). I've seen him the last two or three days. I haven't caught them, but you can just see the zip on the ball. He's cool. Much better than Dallas."
Chatman and Sherry are rehabbing on injured reserve and Sherry, a rookie tight end, said he ran routes out of the playbook for Palmer Thursday morning before practice.
"It felt the same. It felt like the same ball I caught at training camp," Sherry said. "We didn't throw very long, but he looked good zinging it."
Palmer said the only way he'll be able to tell if he doesn't need surgery is to cut it loose throwing routes.
"Like timing on my normal comebacks. Timing and rhythm on my normal curl route," he said. "Or squeezing it into the holes (against) defenses, which would be more telltale how it is. I think I should be able to know throwing routes to receivers and asking them, 'Do you feel the ball is getting there as quick? Does it feel like it's staying in the air a little long? Can you get your hands the same way?' "
Although he doubts he'll play in the Dec. 28 finale, Palmer hopes to be at 100 percent by the end of this week or next week and if he needs surgery it would be in the next couple of weeks.
Palmer says he hasn't thrown a ball more than 55 yards so far and says he can get it to 60-75 yards when he's at 100 percent. But he's already taken out one ceiling panel in the gym.
"I'm not playing soft toss, but I'm trying to go slowly," Palmer said. "I started at 10 percent, 10 yards for a week, and then gradually moved my way up to 60, 70, 80 percent , and hopefully next week 90, 100 percent."
Delhomme, who had a bigger tear and much more muscle damage in his elbow, had surgery a year ago in October was back throwing in practice around Memorial Day.
Palmer's second long-term medical ordeal in less than three years might have been eased by the comeback from reconstructive knee surgery during January to August in 2006.
"After having reconstructive knee surgery, you don't trust walking, let alone jogging. At some point, you have to stop playing mind games with yourself," he said. "Take that leap of faith, whether it's the first box jump or throwing the first comeback. I've been through that with my mind and have experienced that. What they tell you to do is what you have to do even if doesn't feel right, or you feel like you're going to be unsuccessful. You have to do it. I trust the guys that I'm working with. They've done a great job. Nick's done a phenomenal job. Dr. (Angelo) Colosimo. The timeline they set and what they said was going to happen has happened."
Jordan Palmer, his brother and the Bengals No. 3 quarterback, hasn't seen Carson throw but he knows he's both frustrated and encouraged.
"He feels like his rehab is going well and he was throwing well today," Jordan said. "It's definitely tough to watch your team win or lose. He hadn't been hurt that much but all you can control is work ethic, how coachable you are, how tough you are. There's not much else you can control. He's still himself."
Which means he's on the evenest of keels. But since Carson hasn't played after that 31-22 loss to the Cowboys in Jerry's den that was 17-16 early in the fourth, that may now have to be looked upon as one of the toughest Who-Dey moments ever. He was 23-of-39 for 217 yards, an interception, and two touchdowns to Houshmandzadeh. The only giveaway is that his longest pass was a 25-yarder to Houshmandzadeh.
"I knew it was screwed up that week of practice. He wasn't the same," Houshmandzadeh said.
Palmer said he limited himself that week to just 20 throws on Friday but he knew in the first quarter that he couldn't get his customary power on his passes.
"I've been throwing a football since I was four. When something doesn't feel right, you know, " Palmer said. "I knew right away."
Looking back on it, Houshmandzadeh shook his head.
"He toughed it out," he said. "You would never know he was going through the things he was going through. You couldn't tell. But he toughed it out. That's all you can say. He put his career on the line and he's lucky it didn't cost him."