Mentor visits pupil

5-26-04, 5:55 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The man who probably knows more about what makes Carson Palmer tick as a quarterback showed up at practice Tuesday and saw some changes. But USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow knew one thing wouldn't be different once Palmer arrived in the NFL.

"The guy is just a great human being and he still is. Hasn't changed one bit,' said Chow after

walking off the field with the man he helped get the Heisman Trophy. "I'm going to spend some more time with him after they have their meetings and do some more catching up."

Chow is back East doing some recruiting, but he had some time and hopped a quick flight from Atlanta to take in the morning workout.

"He looked a little bigger and stronger. A lot more mature. He seemed like he handled everything really well," Chow said. "He looked real poised, real mature."

There is no doubt in Chow's mind that Palmer is soon going to be as at ease with the Bengals' system as he was with his system in Los Angeles that produced an average of 41.5 points in the last eight games of the 2002 season. He feels Palmer got a bad rap after his senior season when the draft whispers intimated it would take him a long time to pick up a pro offense. They didn't take into account, Chow believes, the several different playbooks Palmer had at USC.

"That (criticism) was unfair to him," said Chow, who was the coordinator for his last two seasons. "When I got there, he told me I was his fourth guy in four years. What guys do, I'm not saying its better, but what I call green, you call red and it takes time to learn that."

Chow's favorite example of what that entails came when he tried to explain an angle route by the fullback and the fullback responded with, "Just run Texas," which had been the name of the route in the previous system.

"He's a bright, young guy," Chow said. "He adjusted then and he'll adjust now. He told me that this offense is different than ours, but he was able to sit back and take it all in last year. It looks like he's got a lot of good players surrounding him."

**

BIG SPENDERS :** Here is why the Bengals couldn't give Warren Sapp whatever he wanted and why they couldn't unload the bank on Troy Vincent or Bobby Taylor: In 2003, the Bengals had the fourth highest payroll in the NFL at $85.5 million, according to Tuesday's USA Today.

The newspaper combined bonuses that were paid in '03 along with a player's salary to come up with the figure. The big number, not far behind second place Tampa Bay ($88.1 million) and third place Minnesota ($85.7 million) and $10 million shy of first place New Orleans, was a product of franchise deals to Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson and free-agent forays that netted three defensive starters who made at least $5.6 million in 2003. In fact, defensive tackle John Thornton ($6 million), and cornerback Tory James and linebacker Kevin Hardy (each $5.6 million) were 3-4-5 behind Palmer and Johnson for the total take in '03.

Here's why pro sports economics can make you keel at times. Palmer got $10 million of his $14 million bonus last year, led the team in total income with $11 million, and didn't take a snap. Meanwhile, Rudi Johnson, their leading rusher, made $390,200, less than a backup offensive lineman, a punter and a rookie fullback.

But the survey shows how the Bengals have spread out their cap hits. If they were tight in this past free-agency season in the wake of '03 and didn't give out the big bonuses, they should have more room in '05. Palmer counted just $2.5 million against the cap last year (it will go up because he's going to play this year), but Chad Johnson counted just $1.8 million even though he received about $7 million of his $10.5 million bonus in numbers alleviated by a six-year extension.

Their big cap hit in '05 would have been Corey Dillon at $6 million, but his trade to New England has erased that. They re-worked quarterback Jon Kitna's contract and the '05 season is a light number that only balloons if he plays.

Another way to keep cap hits down? Six players who made more than $1 million didn't come back, either through free agency, trade, or releases: Corey Dillon, Oliver Gibson, Matt O'Dwyer, Jeff Burris, Artrell Hawkins, and Mike Goff.

**

DATES SET:** Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has firmed up his training camp dates at Georgetown College. Players report July 30, and have their first practice July 31 to start a week that ends with the intrasquad scrimmage Friday night, Aug. 6, and the mock game, Saturday afternoon, Aug. 7. Those times are to be announced.

**

SLANTS AND SCREENS:** Several students from the Volunteer's of America's Maud Booth Academy came to practice Tuesday to thank Kenny Watson, Kevin Hardy and John Thornton for their visit two weeks ago.

The three spoke at the school about teamwork, health eating and the importance of exercise, and the students presented the players with drawings from all of their classmates.

The Volunteers of America Maud Booth Academy is an innovative school program that provides a supportive environment for children from at-risk neighborhoods in Kindergarten through fourth grade. . .

The Bengals returned to Paul Brown Stadium Tuesday for the second of their four weekly coaching sessions. They work Wednesday and Thursday, and then return for three more days next week before mid-June's mandatory minicamp. . .

Why did they draft cornerback Keiwan Ratliff in the second round? Probably because he made plays at Florida like he did Tuesday when quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Johnson couldn't connect on a quick hitter. Palmer threw it behind him and Ratliff was right there for the interception.

"I think the timing was a bit off and it was one of those right place, right time things," Ratliff said. "It's one of those where you're so surprised you have no choice but to catch it. As soon as you turn your head around, the ball is in your chest, and the instinct is to catch the ball."

That's what the Bengals like. That catching instinct. For years he was a wide receiver, and that seems to be paying off. But he was also a center fielder. Not for long in high school in Columbus, Ohio, but long enough.

"I played my freshman year and that was it. I found out I couldn't hit," Ratliff said. "I liked catching fly balls and I could do that. It was like catching punts."

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