When Carson Palmer huddles up the Bengals offense for the first time this season Tuesday morning, he says he's looking at the guys that give them the best chance they've ever had to win the Super Bowl as he begins his seventh season as the Bengals quarterback.
"If we stay healthy, that's the biggest thing; this is our best opportunity," Palmer said earlier this week. "It's not even close. We've got more talent. We have more of a chip on our shoulder. You still have to put the pieces together because now everybody is saying they've got a shot."
Palmer is energized by the Complementing Carson Offseason that focused on surrounding the team's franchise quarterback with a worthy passing game and he is pleased with the sneak peek he's had on the field with his bevy of new wide receivers during the past month or so.
It will be recalled the passing offense ended the season in tatters at the hands of the blitzing, gambling Jets even as running back Cedric Benson racked up 169 yards. No Bengals team had ever lost a game when a back gained that many yards until Jan. 9.
They responded aggressively.
For the first time in their history the Bengals drafted a tight end first. They signed a veteran wide receiver that has a career yards per catch longer than their all-time leading receiver. They drafted a wide receiver in Jordan Shipley who averaged nearly double-digit catches this past year at Texas and another one in Dez Briscoe that averaged a touchdown catch per his final 24 games at Kansas.
"I think we've done that," Palmer said of the quest to get him more weapons. "They've created a lot more competition at the position. It's going to be an interesting camp. We lost a guy (Laveranues Coles), but we've added three, four, five more guys. We have the same passing game. We just have to figure out who does what best."
As he always does, Palmer emphasizes that it is early and "We have a long way to go."
But it might surprise you what Palmer's initial takes are after throwing to the veterans every Tuesday and Thursday. His go-to guys were always T.J. Houshmandzadeh (in the clutch) and the late Chris Henry (down the field) and he says that Antonio Bryant and Matt Jones can replicate that duo.
"We wanted to replace them, but we've never had replacements like these two guys," Palmer said. "These guys are the most like those two guys. They're not clones, but they do different things. They have different abilities and some similarities. But they're two guys that could easily replace them."
Palmer is clearly intrigued with Jones, the former No. 1 pick of the Jaguars that underachieved himself out of the league last year but has showed up here seemingly resolved to save his career.
"He's 6-6. A big, fast target and a hungry target, too," Palmer said. "He's been out of the league and he just wants to make the team and help. He can run, he can catch. He's just a mismatch. It doesn't matter who is out there on him, it's a mismatch."
It almost sounds like he's talking about Henry.
"He could be; you don't know," Palmer said.
With his career average of 15.3 yards per catch, Henry is the only wide receiver that Chad Ochocinco has played with that has averaged more than 15 per catch. The Ocho, who averages 14.5 for his Bengals-best 684 catches, should get a lift from Bryant's 15.3 on 372 catches.
"He's been in some different offenses," Palmer said of Bryant. "If there's one thing that's stayed the same it's our passing offense. If he can pick it up fast, the sky's the limit for him because he's got all the potential in the world. He's hungry. He works hard. He does all the little things you want him to do well. As quickly as he learns it, as soon as he figures out, he'll be an impact player for us.
"He's a little bit like T.J. as far as his toughness and his ability to break a tackle. I think he's extremely fast, he's quick, he's big. There's nothing he lacks. He runs great routes. I'm excited to see what he can do."
And that's just it. Sure, he's thrown to the new guys, but all Palmer really knows about them is on film. But Palmer thinks there is enough there as he begins to sift through it all once his rookies show up next week.
"I think it's in better shape," he said of the passing game, "just because we've added more guys."
Palmer is also wondering what it is going to be like throwing against a new cornerback.
He knows about the baggage and has seen it checked before.
"He's been out of the game. Any time you have a guy like that, he just wants to make a team and get back in the locker room," Palmer said. "We have had a number of guys that have been in that situation and they've come in with great attitudes and the right work ethic and hopefully he falls in line with them."