3-15-04, 11 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It runs in the family.
In Carson Palmer, Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese has been entrusted with the same thing the Cowboys and Patriots bequeathed his father. Ernie Zampese had the chance to mold quarterbacks who were taken with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft and came up with Super Bowl quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Drew Bledsoe.
Since Zampese believes "the position leans heavily towards intangibles," the board in his office has plays roaming through formations and fronts before stopping in front of a fence of words. On the other side is a series of sayings ranging from Don Coryell to Marvin Lewis, and Ernie Zampese's list of a quarterback's three most important attributes.
"Accuracy, retention, toughness. What's missing?" Ken Zampese asks. "Arm strength has little to do with a guy being successful or not."
But Zampese, 36, knows what Palmer can do with the ball gave him the Heisman Trophy, a check belonging to the No. 1 pick in the draft, and the keys to a franchise's bid to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons.
"The worst thing we can do is have him think so much," Zampese says, "That his physical skills don't show. That's the worst thing we can do."
Zampese pushed aside his Xs and Os recently to talk about his prized pupil with Bengals.com.
**GH: We all know he can throw. What is his best throw?
KZ:** Any of them. He can make every throw. He can make them all. He reaches the whole field. We just have to make sure he's in the right technique so he'll be able to throw it straight and to not think so much that it causes him so much stress that he can't throw it.
GH: Jon has talked about how you pretty much put it out there for him when it looked early last season you were going to go with Carson. That had to be a big-time learning experience.
KZ:Jon is the best. He handles so much stuff. He's so strong in his character and keeping in character. I said to him, "OK, we're 1-4. You've been a pro long enough to know what is going on. You need to be productive and we need to win. Those two things need to happen for us to keep on going the way we're going." That was not a group conversation. That was said just to Jon. But Carson saw how he responded.
GH: You talk about the intangibles about being a quarterback It had to be huge for Carson to watch what Jon went through last season.
KZ:Terrific for him. Just to watch the resiliency and the comebacks and the way he is a fighter. And just to observe that concentration and study to even have a chance to be successful in this league.
GH: How are his mechanics? Here's a kid who has been going to camps, it seems, since he was eight years old.
KZ:He's great mechanically and he'll be even better as we go. The more we expand it, as he learns the timing of the routes and when the ball needs to come out, that will get him to play with more anticipation and then he'll be able to rely on anticipation rather than just firing the ball in there all the time. The ball can come out sooner, we'll take fewer hits, and we're all feeing pretty good.
KZ:Experience. That's it. Until something else pops up, which I don't expect, he just needs time on task.
KZ: His physical skills are secondary to his character. He has strong character. He's accountable. He's willing to take the blame for whatever comes along as long it takes pressure off of someone else. He's willing take the bullet for the other guys in the huddle and that will go a long way. If someone runs a wrong route, or there is a problem with the front, he won't point any fingers. He'll say, " Let's get it right," Or, "My fault," and he just goes on. He understands that. **
GH: After watching Jon, is Carson a guy that prepares and watches a lot of tape?
KZ:*I think over time he has relied a lot on his physical skills, and in recent years has come to value the mental preparation a little bit more, and has had to to reach the level he's reached. He gets better each time we go through it because he learns the language, what I'm looking for, and the different things to look for every week while preparing for a defense. *
GH: What are you going to concentrate on the most with him? What are you really going to emphasize?
KZ:** Defense. Defense. Defense Recognition. Getting comfortable with the looks. That's the first thing we're going to talk about is the defense. "This is an over, this is an under. This is even." Everything protection-wise comes off of identification of different players in the front. Who is going to get blocked in this protection? Who is not? How is he going to get blocked and how that affects the hot (receivers).
Those are things we need to have a terminology, a communication. "OK, it was under Sam Mike, didn't you see it? And we need him to say (snap of the fingers) that quick. We've done it all year. We're going to go over and do it again where there's a straight base. Here's our terminology and what names we call the different defenders. (This is a quarters guy, this is a thirds guy) and what that means so we can have quick corrections on the field. **
GH: Is he pretty good with that stuff?
KZ:* Oh yeah. He's been playing in that sport for so long that there's not whole lot of things he hasn't heard before. It's just a matter of how I call them. Someone else might call them something else.*
GH: How is minicamp going to be different than the one last season with Jon?
KZ:** We're probably going to do more things in minicamp. It may sound kind of goofy, because we've got a different guy starting who is young. But we kept the concepts from one minicamp to the next to the next. And we got good at the plays. We got good at our situational stuff. You saw where we finished in third down, you saw where we finished in red zone. Both were way up compared to where we were last year.
Now we have a base to build off, and I think that's the most important thing. So we'll come in, we're going to install our base, and then we'll feel better about moving on with things that we need to have to win against the different defenses we're going to play because we've established those things.
The common thought with veterans is you can do more. I think the reason why we didn't (last year) is we wanted to establish a foundation with the group we came into camp with last year, and that's why we kept very basic, and I still think that's a winning formula. Stay as simple as you can with enough variety where you don't squeezed.
**GH: So you're doing what you would have done with a veteran. You're not stopping and waiting for Carson.
KZ:** We're aware of where he's coming from. His progress with what we install will determine how far we'll move along.
**GH: The knock on him coming out of college is it takes time for him to pick up a system. How is he grasping it?
KZ:** He does fine. He just needs to do it. He needs to do it, see it, come back, watch it on tape, talk about it, do it again. Last year, we only had the minicamps and training camps doing that. From that time on, it's all sit in a chair and memorize it.
Our job is to give him the chance to succeed by making the offense work to where he can get a mental grasp of everything and be able to play fast. That's the most important thing, so he can play and not think.
**GH: Is that going to be too simple for the opponent? Too predictable?
KZ:** I don't think it has to be. I don't think it's the concepts that will make it really difficult on him. I think it's the process of (calling) protections and the language. Second year in the system and learning the language is something that will really benefit him.
**GH: He's not a true rookie, is he? He's not Peyton Manning going into '98, or Bledsoe going into '93. He's a rookie, but he's really not.
KZ:He's got some of the things that cause a guy stress already handled. The process of a work day here at Paul Brown Stadium. What his position coaches like. What the schedule is like. All those things that add stress to a young guy, he's kind of been through all ready. Now it's just the normal pressure of performing.
GH: Are you guys pretty close? Would you go out and eat lunch?
KZ:** With Carson? Oh yeah. We'll be out golfing this spring. With Jon, too, and Shane (Matthews). We've been at Four Bridges. Heritage. Love to go out and play and those are things we do outside the office.
**GH: Who is the best golfer?
KZ:** Shane. It's not even close. Carson is the longest driver. Not even close. It's unbelievable.
**GH: Did you ever beat any of those guys?
KZ:I'm at the bottom of the heap. I can't remember if I ever have. If I did, it was a rare day.
GH: Do you feel pressure this year?
KZ:** Not really. Not any different than last year. You feel pressure to take another step.
**GH: Obviously, you think a lot of intangibles because one side of your board is all sayings. What is your favorite?
KZ:** The one that makes me laugh the most is from Bobby Cope. "A guy who won't do it ain't no better than a guy that cain't do it, so don't fool yourself." I worked for Bobby at USC. He was my mentor.
**GH: Who's BB?
KZ:Bob Bratkowski. He made it because he had a great one this year. While we were going good, he said, "The same hand that pats you on the back today will have a knife in it tomorrow."
GH: Good stuff for Carson to know.
KZ:**There's a lot of Xs and Os and there's a lot of mental.
**GH: I see a ML up there.
KZ:** That's Marvin. "Don't let your last bad decision affect your next good decision."