There are fits and there are fits. And J.T. O'Sullivan fits the Bengals like, well, a guy named O'Sullivan serving as grand marshal for next week's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Sacramento, Calif.
"Jon had nothing but good things to say about Carson and Cincinnati," said O'Sullivan, Palmer's fourth backup in five seasons. "I really value what a guy like Jon has to say and it was great working with him because he had such a good personality and was able to help me understand what Coach Martz was trying to get done in Detroit."
O'Sullivan met up with Martz and Kitna in 2007, when Martz coordinated an offense in which Kitna threw for more than 4,000 yards. Zampese worked under Martz in St. Louis and it blew him away that O'Sullivan signed with the Lions just before the '07 training camp and was able to digest the system so fast that he won the backup job in just two weeks.
It caught Martz's eye, too, and he took O'Sullivan with him to San Francisco for the 2008 season and made him the starter.
"That shows you how smart he is and how much experience he has," Zampese said. "That's not an easy system, now. And I really like the kind of coaches he's been around. Guys like Bill Belichick and Lovie Smith. He's a guy that's seen it all."
Zampese has always rated O'Sullivan highly whenever they have gone into free agency together. He loves O'Sullivan's ability as a thrower and his well-traveled itinerary.
(O'Sullivan had a bigger yards per throw by more than two, 7.6 to 5.1, compared to Bengals backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in the '08 stats).
O'Sullivan turns 30 the week before the season and while he's had cups of coffee on the practice squad with Belichick's Patriots and Smith's Bears, he also had an NFL Europa stint in which he led the Galaxy to the World Bowl with a 91.9 passer rating.
"I like to throw the ball and they like to do that here and they've had success doing it."
Zampese stops short of saying the Bengals have the West Coast version of Fitzpatrick, Palmer's backup the past two seasons who signed in Buffalo 10 days ago.
"But there are a lot similarities with Fitz," said Zampese, who didn't hesitate making Fitzpatrick the backup back in '07 two weeks after he got the playbook in a trade the week season started.
"They're both really smart guys and both have athletic ability and can move around and good arm strength."
Both also played the most they've ever played in 2008. Fitzpatrick, in his fourth season, started 12 games in place of the injured Palmer and had a passer rating of 70 on eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
O'Sullivan, who came into his seventh season with 26 pass attempts since New Orleans took him in the sixth round of the 2002 draft, started the Niners' first eight games. He finished with a 73.6 rating on eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions in a tough season that became known for his 17 turnovers, six off fumbles.
O'Sullivan gained a reputation in the San Francisco media for being an intense, no-nonsense guy, but also a standup guy who offered no excuses. He offered none Tuesday despite being on a team that had its sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons and underwent a head coaching change before its eighth game.
"No excuses," O'Sullivan said. "It was a great opportunity to go out and play and learn."
While Fitzpatrick left the Ivy League with a Harvard economics degree, O'Sullivan arrives with some beefy academic credentials of his own. He received an English degree from the estimable University of California at Davis.
"I don't know if I'd go that far," O'Sullivan said with a laugh when asked if the Harvard-Davis comparison could play out. "It's excellent, though, and I think people in California view it as a top school."
O'Sullivan said his concentration was more in creative writing. On reflection, he thinks his career would make for a good read.
"It would be interesting," he said. "I've been able to meet so many great people."
His next chapter sounds like it should fit.