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Mandatory optimism

Posted: 11:55 a.m.

Carson Palmer takes the helm of his fifth Bengals team this Thursday at the mandatory minicamp with a set jaw.

At 28, he says he still hasn't reached his ceiling as a quarterback, hopes to play until he's 40, and won't be satisfied until he wins a Super Bowl. And he says he's confident it can be done here with the current structure.

"No question. No question," he says.

During a sitdown with earlier this week, Palmer cringed a "No," when asked if people could call the Bengals, "His Team."

"If it is anybody's team, it's the owner's team," Palmer said. "But I have no problem leading this team, being the leader, whatever I need to be to put us where we need to be.



But he is now older than most of the roster (just 17 players are older than him), only six players have been a Bengal longer, and his teammates voted him offensive captain last year. So when he talks, people listen, and right now he is saying the Bengals locker room has the best chemistry since he's been here and it has to be because the most consistent NFL teams have no distractions.

"The locker room we have right now is phenomenal," Palmer says. "There is no selfishness whatsoever and we haven't had that in along time and it's great to be a part of this."

Palmer continues to play the role of U.N. ambassador in the Chad Miss and Led Crisis (will he show or won't he?), which may come to a head if Johnson decides to end his self-imposed exile.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," Palmer said of Thursday. "I like where we're at. Hopefully he comes in and fits in with what we've created here."

Here is Geoff Hobson's conversation with Palmer:

GH: What have you worked on this spring? CP:
I've really hammered the fundamentals and technique. Just watching film. I need to watch some fundamental things I got wrong last year.

GH: Which ones? CP:
The depth of my drops. The timing of my drops. The angle of my feet when I'm getting ready to throw. Small, minute things that nobody but me would notice besides other NFL quarterbacks and coaches. Little things. Get my hips going towards the ball a little sooner. Very technical things.

GH: When you look at the (career-high) 20 interceptions from last year, and I'm sure you looked at every one at least 20 times, what are your conclusions? CP:
They're all different. There's one that hits the receiver in the hands, bounces in the air and gets picked off. There are one or two wrong routes. There's ones where a guy is double covered and I tried to force it in there. There's some where the defender was where I didn't expect him and I didn't see him when I needed to see him and tried to throw it through him.

Different areas. Some mechanical. Some bad reads. Bad decisions. There is never one reason.

GH: Are the picks a product of trying too hard to make a play when you guys are struggling? CP:
Sometimes. But just because you're trying to win games doesn't mean you throw picks. You try to throw touchdowns, There are guys that do throw touchdowns. No excuses. No coverup. No one reason. We need to play better more consistently through the entire year.

GH: Marvin has pounded the running game all offseason. You must be leading the charge on that one. To run it more and run it more effectively. CP:
I don't know if more is the key, but more effectively, definitely. So many teams try to play us in Cover 2 and when they can stop the run, you're not doing something right. Whether it's me not putting us in the right play, whatever the key is, we've got to be more effective with seven guys in the box.

Our offensive line has taken it to heart. I've taken it to heart trying to get us in the right play. Rudi's taken it to heart.

GH: Do you think you've lost your edge with that? Lost that mentality to run it? Both Marvin and Rudi have said you guys have gotten away from the run. CP:
I think the mentality has always been there. It's execution. When we get the right run called against the right defensive front, against the right defensive secondary when it is Cover 2 and they've got four guys playing deep, we've got to hit it right.

It's got to be 100 percent. It can't be 50-50. It can't be 70-30. It's got to be 100 percent. In the past we've been close to 100 percent. This past year we weren't. That's something that starts with the receivers, stars with the center, the left tackle, the quarterback, the fullback. It's everybody. It's not the running back's fault. It's not the O-line's fault. It takes 11 guys to run the ball right.

For me, it's getting my footwork and technique perfect so I'm getting the ball deep where Rudi can make the cut four yards before he gets to the line of scrimmage. Or the angle the offensive line is taking. Or it's the angle that the Z (wide receiver) is taking to get the safety out.

GH: When you left after the end of the season, you were really down. So was everybody. You came back optimistic and you still seem to be despite some off-field, offseason stuff. Where do think this team is chemistry-wise? CP:
As good as it's been since I've been here. We're a team. It feels great. I was just talking to Coach (Ken) Zampese about how good it feels. There's not the distraction or whatever the case is. We're a great unit right now. Offense, defense, special teams. Guys are working hard. Nobody is complaining about anything. Guys are trying to get better and that's exactly where we need to be heading into our mandatory camp.

GH: I don't want to get into this thing about your biological clock ticking because I think you said it so well the last month: Everyone's clock is ticking. But at another year older, do you get the sense this is more your team than it's ever been? CP:
I don't like it when people say that. I don't think it's anybody's team. If it is anybody's team, it's the owner's team. But I have no problem leading this team, being the leader, whatever I need to be to put us where we need to be.

As far as the clock ticking, quarterback is more of a unique position and the way I play is more unique compared to the runners. As they get older, they lose a step. I think I'm going to get better with more experience. More two-minute situations, more game-winning drives, more losses, more wins, more overtimes. Because I feel like I keep my arm in great shape. I feel my arm is getting stronger. The key to my game has never been quickness, shake somebody and go 40 yards.

The key to my game is understanding defenses and getting better at reading them. As long as, God willing, I keep my arm the way it is, if not, get it stronger, I'll just get better year after year.

GH: You're 28 now. You could play until, who knows? CP:
I'd love to play until I was 40. Who knows? Only one man knows.

GH: Is that the goal? Play 12 more years? Until you hit 40 (Dec. 27, 2019)? CP:
It's not a goal. I don't think about that. I'm more worried about wins and losses than about anything else. I want to play until I'm satisfied, and I'm not going to be satisfied until I get a Super Bowl.

GH: Do you think you can get a Super Bowl here? CP:
No question. No question. Since I've been here I've seen nothing but a goal of trying to win. I don't feel like the organization has been satisfied with anything that we've done.

You look back and people complain we don't bring in any big free agents. The only guys you know are the guys already in the organization. The guys that perform like Rudi (Johnson) did and they re-paid Rudi a top deal. They re-paid Chad a top deal. They paid both offensive linemen (Willie Anderson and Levi Jones). Me. Chad. They rewarded guys. Guys signed contracts, so they obviously thought it was a good enough deal to sign.

From what I've seen, this organization wants to win as badly as anybody else does. Now, can you chalk it up to bad luck when a guy breaks his neck and has to retire as a first-round pick (David Pollack)? Another guy breaks his ankle and has other bad luck (Chris Perry)? Or another guy can't stay within the rules (Chris Henry and Odell Thurman)?

You don't know when you draft those guys. You can't predict a guy is going to have to retire. You have to chalk some things up to bad luck and I think we've definitely had some bad luck.

But so have a lot of teams.

GH: I get the sense that one of the reasons this team hasn't been back to the playoffs is because it had trouble staying focused during adversity. Whether on the field with your injury, blowups, the arrests, little things in games that couldn't be overcome... CP:
This league is hard enough. It's so competitive. It's so hard to win, let alone win (consistently). Look at New England and Indy. They're probably the two most consistent teams. They don't ever have anything else. All they're worried about is football, where we've got guys worried about other things. For whatever reason. You may think it's not a big distraction, but it's somewhat of a distraction.

The way this league is, the fewer the distractions the better. Just look at the track record of Indy and New England. They don't have distractions.

GH: This seems to have been the ultimate offseason of distractions. Yet talking to guys, it seems to have been a focused camp. CP:
The guys that have been here have done a great job of worrying about each other and not worried about anything in the media or anything else. The locker room we have right now is phenomenal. Guys want to get better. Guys want to learn from other guys.

Look at a guy like Whit and Bobbie (guards Andrew Whitworth and Bobbie Williams) who have taken Anthony Collins (under the wing.) I mean, Anthony Collins is out there and he's got somebody in his ear all practice long. And it's good. Some of it is pump up, some of it is, 'Hey, you've got to do this,' or 'You stepped wrong here.' Everyone is taking guys under their wing and really trying to learn.

There's (rookie wide receiver) Jerome Simpson, who just wants to know. Who just wants knowledge. He's so appreciative of anything you can say to him.

GH: It looks like you've taken Simpson and (fellow rookie receiver Andre) Caldwell under your wing after practices. CP:
I'm trying to help them, but so are Antonio (Chatman) and Marcus (Maxwell). Everyone is trying to help them. There is no selfishness whatsoever and that's what we haven't had in a long time and it's great to be a part of this.

GH: Do you think you guys can survive whatever the circus brings Thursday if Chad does or doesn't come? CP:
You know what? I have no idea what's going to happen. What he's not going to do is come in and break apart what we have going right now. That sure as hell is not going to happen. I don't know how big of a circus, how little of a circus. I like where we're at. Hopefully he comes in and fits in with what we've created here.

GH: One last thing. You see where Brady was 27 and he won three Super Bowls, Peyton Manning was 30 when he won one. Do you think, 'I'm 28 and I'm still waiting for the ring?' CP:
I think of it every year when I'm watching playoff games at home. You only get so many years. You only get so many opportunities. You see other guys playing and it wasn't your year. At some point you can't say that anymore because your years are numbered in this league and you've always just got to prepare yourself and get ready to win a championship.

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