'It's his team'

3-22-04, 5:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Jon Kitna made it quite clear Monday as long as he is the No. 2 quarterback, Carson Palmer is the media's go-to-guy.

"He's the spokesman," said a smiling Kitna on the first day of off-season workouts. "Is his number still nine? OK. Go ask No. 9. It's his team."

As usual, Kitna was gracious about the Bengals' quarterback switch. But it also showed the magnitude of the move not only on the field, but in the locker room. Palmer , quite comfortable in the spotlight as the four-year spokesman for one of the most scrutinized teams in the nation at USC, feels like he has help in both spots.

"We've got a bunch of guys who could be our spokesman," Palmer said. "Chad Johnson, Kevin Hardy, and now Nate Webster. We've got a lot of leaders on our team. There are different types of leaders. They all work in different ways. I'm going to just be myself and act like myself."

That means mixing in with his teammates as one of the guys, such as guessing he'll still be treated like a rookie because he has yet to take a NFL snap. So guess who buys the doughnuts in the morning?

Then he'll try and separate himself when he unleashes the ball downfield with his Heisman Trophy arm.

He gets his first chance to do that Tuesday when the quarterbacks start their regimen of throwing twice a week to the wide receivers. Palmer can't ever remember taking a long break from throwing, so he put the ball down at the end of January and won't pick it up again until Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium.

"I just wanted to give my arm a rest," Palmer said. "I know I'm going to be throwing a lot."

But everyone knows he can throw. He knows in order to keep this job, he has to know the offense as thoroughly as Kitna and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. He gives himself a deadline of the first pre-season game in mid-August in Tampa Bay. As important as the throwing sessions are going to be, watching the cutups of every snap last season twice a week with quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese is more important.

"I've got a ways to go," Palmer said. "I don't know what the percentage of what I know is. . . .I'm going to be at a disadvantage going into games if I don't know the offense like (Kitna and Bratkowski)."

Palmer and Kitna split the snaps in the minicamps and before training camp heated up last year, but he'll be taking the bulk of the snaps this spring. And he admits he needs everyone he can get.

"I'm the type of learner I need to experience things," Palmer said. "I can't just sit in a room and look at plays on a chalk board. I need to be on the field and execute them."

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