Hall advice for a Heisman

5-13-03, 6:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Kurt Warner, the anti-Carson Palmer figure, dispensed some advice to the newest Bengals quarterback Tuesday as easily as flicking one of his medium-range lasers downfield. The future Hall-of-Famer hopes the Bengals allow Palmer to sit for at least a year, but when he does start playing, Warner advises to smell the roses.

"Just try to enjoy it," said Warner, who has led the Rams to two Super Bowls despite being ignored in the NFL Draft. "It's so easy to get overwhelmed with the media, the attention, the pressure, and the stress of that position. But just sit back and enjoy the whole thing.

"Don't take it too seriously, don't take yourself too seriously," Warner said. "If he can enjoy it, he's going to be a much better player and have a much longer career than if you put so much pressure on yourself, you don't perform well, and then you're in the doghouse."

Warner surfaced in Cincinnati Tuesday to give the keynote address to the Greater Cincinnati Salvation Army's 47th Annual Civic & Recognition Luncheon at the Westin Hotel. It turned out that he shared the day with Nancy Brown when she received the group's 2003 Community Service Award for her volunteer efforts.

Brown, wife of Bengals President Mike Brown, made all the centerpieces for the 70 or so tables, but Warner joked that the head table had been flanked in Rams' colors. Others could have joked that it took Nancy Brown to get Warner to Cincinnati when every team in the league had a chance to sign him.

Mike Brown has often called Warner the "John Unitas of this era," again proving that Hall of Fame quarterbacks aren't always found where the Bengals found Palmer with his Heisman Trophy at the No. 1 pick in the draft. Warner, who turns 32 next month, Horatio Algered it all the way. He went three years between his 1994 release from Green Bay to his 1997 signing in St. Louis before becoming a two-time NFL MVP.

"It's hard to find (the franchise quarterback)," Warner said. "The biggest thing is people are caught up in stats and how far you can throw, how; long you can jump, and I don't think any of those things correlate into playing football. It's kind of hit and miss."

But Warner thinks Palmer has hit on two of the club's new coaches. He calls Ken Zampese, the Bengals quarterbacks coach who oversaw the Rams' passing game last season "a great offensive mind." And with the hiring of Marvin Lewis as head coach, Warner has an idea that the Rams are going to face a different group of Bengals this season (Dec. 21 in St. Louis) than the one they beat, 33-10, in Cincinnati on Oct. 3, 1999.

On the way to the Super Bowl title, Warner threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in the last season of Cinergy Field.

"To decide the worst team of the '90s. I remember it well," Warner said. "(Lewis) is a very intense guy, a very good coach from a technical standpoint as well as a leadership standpoint. And when you think about it, those are the guys that succeed in this league.

"I think he'll get guys to play at a high level like he has as a defensive coordinator," Warner said. "That's such a key because the parity is so even all across the board. So much comes down to getting the most out of your players and putting them in good systems, and he knows how to do that, and I think that's why he'll definitely help them turn the corner here."

Warner didn't spend time with Zampese as a quarterback and doesn't know how he'll be with Palmer. But he believes Zampese is going to be able to give him the mental snapshots he needs.

"He's a great X-and-O guy," Warner said. "He sat in meetings and was great with matchups and how things matched up. As far as techniques and technical things, he's as good as they're going to find. He's up on knowing the fine parts of the offense. That's the thing Kenny brings to the table. He'll know what they have to read, what you have to see. He'll be on top of that. When Carson, or which of their quarterbacks get out there, they'll have a good picture in their minds, and then they'll just be able to go out and play."

Warner is embroiled in his own quarterbacks controversy. While he struggled with injuries last season in throwing just three touchdown passes to 11 interceptions, Marc Bulger came out of nowhere to re-write Warner's script with a 101.5 passer rating.

Rams coach Mike Martz has given Warner the job. But Warner hopes Lewis doesn't give Palmer the job right away. He looks how his opposite number in the wild fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIV, Titans quarterback Steve McNair, prepared for his moment by simmering for three seasons and thinks that's the way to go. But he doesn't know if the Bengals have that luxury like McNair did with veteran Chris Chandler.

"It's different for each guy, but the best-case scenario is most of those young guys sit for a year, and learn and get oriented to the media, everything that goes with it and learn how to balance it," Warner said. "Plus, just get oriented to the game in the NFL It's so much different than in college. Even a high-level college, it's not the same as the NFL. There are guys who have gone into play when they're ready and they've gotten better and better like Steve McNair. And there are guys thrown in too early, thrown to the wolves, and they don't have the career they're capable of because they lose confidence and they aren't able to come into their own."

But Warner knows the troubled history of Bengals quarterbacks. Since he played in Cincinnati, the Bengals have started five different quarterbacks, and who knows when the next one may have to be called.

"Here, it's a difficult situation because you don't have a real veteran guy that you know you can just throw in there ," Warner said. "Jon Kitna did a real great job at the end of last year, and he's a guy you can hang on to. But he's not like a veteran guy that you know that has been there and done it year in and year out."

Warner admits he may have been better off than Palmer because he floated in under the radar. But, "once you get there, the pressure's the same no matter who you are or how you got there. When you're playing in the NFL, you're expected to perform at the highest level."

Warner seems as befuddled as the scouts when it comes to finding quarterbacks. He knows Palmer, "has tremendous physical abilities and he had a great year. But before that, he was just an average guy. How do you know? It's a tough thing to do."

Warner peppered Tuesday's speech with his steel-belted faith and spirit. So it's really no surprise that he thinks it's the intangibles that make or break quarterbacks. He remembers back to those days right after he replaced Trent Green in the '99 preseason.

"It's the leadership role more than anything," Warner said. "I'm not a guy who is going to go out there and impress you with all my physical skills. "But, when you got 10 other guys in the huddle who believe in what you can do, believe in who you are, and know when you step under center that you're going to make a play that helps us win the game, and that goes way beyond just throwing the ball with your arm.

"If you lose one aspect of those, it's a little bit tougher to play quarterback in this league if you're out there on your own, or not a great leader, and don't say a lot to your guys," Warner said. "So much has to do with guys believing I could do it. When I first got in there, even the guys in the huddle didn't know what I was about and you could tell it wasn't quite the same. But once they saw me do it and understood what I was off the field matched what I was on the field, then it all meshed together and that confidence is what helped us win the Super Bowl."

Warner smiled when someone asked him about the trappings of a Heisman Trophy and a No. 1 pick.

"Don't know anything about it," he said.

But he should end up knowing all about the Hall.

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