Kamp Kumbaya


Carson Palmer

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Carson Palmer is talking about how the organization has backed up the 2009 AFC North title with even better talent.

"The ball is in our court as far as the players are concerned," he said.

Bobbie Williams is talking about how management hasn't been afraid to add big-name players.

Chad Ochocinco is getting a headache trying to figure out how foes are going to stop an offense that he graciously turned over to Terrell Owens on Wednesday here at check-in day when he declared his friend the team's No. 1 receiver because of his Hall of Fame credentials.

Welcome to Kamp Kumbaya.

Before the Bengals agreed to terms with Owens, they were drawing surprisingly low-grade attention to their effort to defend the division. But as they moved into the townhouses of Georgetown College and Owens prepared to make his cross-country move from California, the Bengals had clearly moved into the elite discussion.

Among themselves as well as the pundits.

On Wednesday, Super Bowl wasn't fantasy football. While the players moved, so did the marketing department as they made plans to be on-site Thursday to shoot a "Dynamic Duo" TV spot with The Ocho and T.O.

No one wanted to say it, but leave it to The Ocho. In a camp of thirtysomethings the year before a potential lockout, how many shots does this group have left?

"In the five years I've been here, this is the best team I've come to camp with; this is the best overall team," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "I can feel the excitement now and the fans are excited, too. I can sense (management) really wants to win and this is the year for us to do it and I think we can."

The Ocho even said, basically, it would be a damn shame if the Bengals don't win the Super Bowl. If not this year, he asked, when?

The Bengals get criticized as an organization, The Ocho admitted, "but they've given a lot of players a second chance and it's going to pay off."

They've also done things they've rarely done before. Like bring back players for another year that are well into their 30s, such as Williams and tight end Reggie Kelly. Owens is the oldest free agent the Bengals have signed since Norman Julius Esiason in 1997.

If there is one year…

"It just shows we are building this team to go all the way this year; that's all you can ask the organization to do," said Williams, who turns 34 the third week of the season. "They're getting the players that are in demand.

"We certainly feel like this is the year. We felt that way last year, too. They're showing more signs to get more top name players in to help us give us a better chance. ... Hey, they brought me back."

Williams laughed. There were a lot of laughs Wednesday. Maybe first-round pick Jermaine Gresham was the only unsigned rookie, but that couldn't quiet the buzz. Guys like Williams made the move possible. Solid, stolid veterans who have been through all the bad and good of the past six seasons.

"I don't think this is the same T.O. of a few years ago," Williams said. "I think he's going to be fine. We've got guys who are going to step up and not let anybody destroy what we've got. But I don't think we've got anybody like that."

Palmer, who suddenly turns 31 the day after the Paul Brown Stadium finale on NBC against the Chargers late in the season, can't help but treat this camp a little differently.

"This is definitely going to be an exciting year and it's an exciting time," Palmer said. "But I get excited coming to Georgetown every year. This organization has done a great job to back up what we did last year and improve on it. Now the ball is in our court as far as the players are concerned. We've got to go out and win football games. That's what it's all about."

Owens is being perceived as the missing piece, the downfield threat that complements a top 10 running attack. But Palmer isn't just high on what was the 26th-rated passing game.

"I think we're better than we were all across the board," Palmer said. "We didn't lose too many guys. We re-signed guys. The guys on defense are back, the O-line is intact. That was the big question and last year they went out and proved we were one of the best running teams in the league. I think we've added, hopefully, the pieces that we need to make a run at the Super Bowl. It's up to us."

Marketing just has to go to The Ocho for sound bites. Batman and Robin. Bonnie and Clyde.

"He can make the popcorn. But I'm going to make everybody kiss the baby," he said.

But he also tried to soothe fears that it will all blow up in a clash of egos. Not only is Owens 36, but The Ocho turns 33 the week the playoffs start. "This is our window," he said.

"We're best friends off the field," The Ocho said, "and we have the same goal in mind: Winning."

Incentives are always a good way to knife a wedge through a team and some critics are panning a contract in which half of Owens' potential $4 million comes from incentives. With the upside calling for 100 catches, 1,300 yards, and 14 TDs, they only see potential trouble.

Except the unflappable Palmer is one at the cash register.

"That's nothing I can be concerned with," Palmer said. "It doesn't matter who touches the ball or how many touches they get. It's about winning games. ... Whoever gets the ball when we win games gets the ball. ... He's at the point in his career where probably the most important thing also is having a chance to win the Super Bowl. I've got to get the ball to the guy that's open. That's my main concern."

The Ocho, who once sent aspirin to the opposing secondary the week before a game, is talking about handing out Tylenol for his celebrations because of the headaches caused by a suddenly intriguing offense. The kind of offense that has even put the defense in awe.

"As you can tell on his TV show, T.O. wants to play," Peko said. "Oh, yeah. I watch it. I'm a fan. You've got him and Ocho and Antonio Bryant and Gresham. Dude, they're getting back to that '05 form." Popcorn? Tylenol?

Grab something, they're telling you, and hold on.

"This is the year," The Ocho said.

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