"You can play, dude."
That's what former Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer told Jake Browning during this past offseason before Browning became the Bengals current backup.
Now a popular quarterback guru, Palmer, who also helps Bengals Pro Bowler Joe Burrow, thinks the Bengals are in good hands if they decide to rest Burrow's strained calf and give Browning his first NFL start Monday night (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 5, ESPN) at Paycor Stadium against the Rams.
"This is one of the better QB2s in the league, especially a guy with no starts," Palmer says. "He's played a lot of ball at a high level. I like his game."
Browning turned to Palmer because that's what Browning does. He has invested in his dream ever since he came out of Washington undrafted four years ago and when Browning asked admiringly about Burrow's footwork last season, Burrow suggested he visit Palmer in California.
When Palmer sat down to introduce himself to Browning by watching film together, that's when he said it.
"You can play, dude."
They knew little about each other until then. And that was fine with Browning. He worked with the 3D group coming out of college (the Tom House-led passing teachers who worked with Andy Dalton) and he credits their rotational body philosophy for putting more zip on his passes and saving his career.
"People would say you need a stronger arm. OK. How?" Browning recalled. "I lifted more weights. That didn't help. How? … It was like someone telling you, put the wrong answer on the test, and then no one telling you what the right answer is. You just keep guessing. And finally someone says, 'Hey, here's the answer to that.'"
That got Browning's open mind thirsting for more. He immediately gravitated to Palmer's lower body mechanics. Palmer gravitated to Browning's blunt, single-minded approach. It reminded him of Burrow.
"Very matter of fact," said Palmer Thursday night from Cali. 'Yeah, I want to work on that. No, not that.' He's looking for the efficient, best way to do it."
Browning, who left Folsom High School as California's all-time passing yardage leader after he broke his own record, wanted to be more than a name in a book.
"I think a lot of guys train with the same people throughout their whole NFL career. And for me, it was kind of stepping outside that comfort zone and going to work with some different guys just to get some access to some different information," Browning said. "Not that one's better or anything. But just get access to the best information and apply it to my game and try and continue to develop."
Here's what Palmer likes about Browning:
"Great pocket awareness. How he throws on the run I say is up there. Very talented off-platform thrower, which is good for a backup if he goes in and is running around. I was blown away when I saw how he moves and sees the field. He's got a good touch on the back shoulder."
TO A TEE: Wide receiver Tee Higgins isn't exactly re-playing Super Bowl LVI on Monday. But he does know he had both Bengals touchdowns in that game the Rams eventually won, 23-20
"If we had won that game I probably would have been MVP," Higgins said after Thursday's practice. "It is what it is. They ended up getting the best of us. Hats off to them. Hopefully I get two again this week."
He thinks if Browning is called, he'll be able to get it to him. No matter Burrow or Browning, they'll be looking for Higgins after his two-touchdown game and 89 yards last Sunday against the Ravens. Higgins had a great training camp and one of the reasons is with Burrow out he developed a nice rapport with Browning.
"He made good reads. He's a baller. A guy that goes out there and does his job well," Higgins said. "He's got way more confidence with the offense and he was being a vocal leader as he should be. He's definitely built some confidence (with the receivers).
"I see the balls he's throwing for the scout team. He's just putting it in there in perfect spots. When Joe was hurt during the preseason he was putting it in perfect spots. I've got a lot of confidence in him to be able to run the offense."
But he gets his head shaking when it comes to Burrow. There he was throwing him a touchdown back-pedaling in the face of a fierce zero blitz off that right calf. Higgins only wants him to play if he's at 100 %.
"Knowing him, you never know. Who knows?" Higgins asked. "He's a tough guy."
START OF IT ALL: Rams Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Aaron Donald's appearance at Paycor gets a lot of ink/clicks/pub. It's the first time he's been here since he broke up last year's joint training camp practice with an odd and frightening helmet swing.
So it's the second time he's been here since he should have been the Super Bowl MVP (and not Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp) in a game he dominated and ended when he threw Burrow to the ground to force an incomplete fourth-down pass with 39 seconds left.
It will be recalled in the first hours of free agency after that game, the Bengals firmed up their interior by signing two of the top offensive linemen on the market, center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa.
Their importance has not been lost on Burow.
"They're really the leaders of that room. They've been here the last two years. They think critically about what they think is best for the O-line and they think critically about technique," Burrow said. "And I've learned a lot from those guys, just asking questions and watching tape with them and how they think. You learn a lot about O-line play, technique and how they feel and think about the game. They are two of the best at articulating, which is a nice thing to have."