Carson Palmer Knows The Grind And Joe Burrow "Is The Right Guy To Be Going Through This Mentally"

Carson Palmer came back big in '06.
Carson Palmer came back big in '06.

Carson Palmer, who fought through it twice to win on Opening Day, won't be surprised to see Joe Burrow take that first snap of the season like he did when he quarterbacked the Bengals to a 23-10 victory in the 2006 opener at Kansas City.

"I had great people surrounding me," Palmer said Thursday night as he recalled that first ACL reconstruction in his left knee. "Joe's in great hands. If you combine that with the desire and the work ethic and the want-to, which Joe will, it's a great recipe.

"Joe will be fine. He'll be good. He's got the strength to come out of this just as good or even better."

It's hard to believe, but Palmer, 41, is heading into his fourth year of retirement. It was in his fourth season when Palmer single-handedly wrenched Bengaldom out of the horror of Jan. 8, 2006. That was the surreal night at Paul Brown Stadium on the second snap of the Wild Card Game against the Steelers that the faithful's eyes   went from the ecstasy of Palmer's 66-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Henry to the agony back up field of Palmer writhing on the ground.

But Palmer's supersonic rehab replaced the hangover. A mere seven months after surgery before the biggest PBS pre-season crowd ever, he pumped nine of 14 passes for three touchdowns against the Packers and finished it off with a slide on his knee after a scramble.

"Can't even remember," Palmer said.

There's no way to equate Palmer's injury to Burrow's injury or Palmer's surgery to Burrow's surgery or Palmer's rehab to Burrow's rehab. Burrow's comeback can't be measured against Palmer's. 

But Palmer can offer a comforting road map. He negotiated it well enough that he ended that 2006 season as the Pro Bowl's Outstanding Player. Then nine years later in Arizona, he did it again. After he tore the same knee on Nov. 9, 2014, he returned to have his best season ever (35 touchdowns, 104.6 passer rating) and was in the MVP conversation along with the Bengals' Andy Dalton during that 2015 season.

"It's a monotonous, tough, mental grind," Palmer said. "Especially when you're at the facility training and all of your teammates are out working and practicing football and you're in the training room doing little mini footsteps. It's a mental battle every day. There's a mindset to it. He's got the right mindset for it."

Palmer thinks the calendar is with Burrow given the injury to his left knee was on Nov. 22 and the surgery was Dec. 2.

"At least it happened earlier. It didn't happen three weeks ago," Palmer said. "He's got a two-month jump on me. Those are precious weeks. Those last couple of months, that's when you're finally cleared and you're really throwing. Really ripping and testing it."

Palmer had his moments during the rehab. There was a stage when he was doing squats and he just didn't have the strength yet in the hip with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle as he came up out of the squat.

"It took me awhile to train my mind and my muscles to do it again and get that strength back," said Palmer, who also needed time to get used to following through on that front leg as he threw. "It's the leg stepping through and there's a lot of rotation that happens on that hip and that leg. You have to re-teach yourself all over again."

Palmer knows Burrow through his brother Jordan, the former Bengals quarterback who tutored Burrow last offseason. He's got advice, but he doesn't think Burrow needs it.

"It comes down to mindset. It's really tedious. It's really boring. Especially the beginning stuff," Carson Palmer said. "But Joe's a gym rat. That's his mentality."

When he says Burrow is in good hands, he was in those same hands. Nick Cosgray, the Bengals director of rehab, was hired to help see Palmer through that spring 15 years ago. He's still here and has racked up a solid reputation in head trainer Paul Sparling's room among the players.

"Nick's great and look at all the experience he has. Joe is around people that have done this a ton," Palmer said. "He showed great toughness. Everyone's pulling for him. That city, that organization, they're all behind him and they're in a really good spot."

Palmer can also vouch for Burrow's surgeon, Rams team doctor Neal ElAttrache. He didn't go to him for his knee, but he worked on Palmer's neck and elbow, which tells you a little bit about what it takes to quarterback 182 NFL games. Ask Palmer if he ever felt like he did before his surgeries and he has to admit, "I forgot what it feels like to be normal." Everyone has their own timeline for getting confident in the pocket again.

"For everybody, it's a mental hurdle to clear," Palmer said. "Some people may be clear it super early on in rehab. Some people it takes week seven of year one after the surgery. Some people it takes two, three years.

"I wasn't super confident and comfortable until a couple of years after surgery. I didn't feel like it was all the way back and all the way strong the way it was before surgery until a couple of years. That could be mental, it could be physical. You just don't know."

But Palmer knows this. He did it twice and expects Burrow can this time.

"He's the right guy to be going through this mentally," Palmer said.

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