Palmer fits his town

4-25-03, 7:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Dave Lapham, who played with Ken Anderson and chronicled every move of Boomer Esiason, liked him.

Of course, everybody likes Carson Palmer, but this is what Lapham likes after Thursday's quick hit news conference. He likes the tall, decisive presence. And he likes the kid who says he's sick of living in the heart of Los Angeles because it takes 25 minutes to go five miles to get a bite to eat.

"He's got a mix of their personalities," said Lapham, the former offensive lineman who is the team's radio analyst. "He's got a little bit of Boomer's confidence. (But) he doesn't like the limelight and that's Kenny. A Midwestern type of guy. I don't think having a presence in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage is going to be a problem."

Everybody has reasons to like Palmer. It's why the Bengals took him down off the draft board as the NFL's No. 1 pick and made him their next quarterback of the future.

If you're his father, Bill Palmer likes the fact that when he walks into a room and sees himself on a magazine cover, his son quietly takes it out of the room, or turns it over on the table. Which means he'll have to do something with this week's "Sports Illustrated."

"When we got the Heisman Trophy home," Bill Palmer said, "we've got a place in our family room. There's a big-screen TV, and a shelf with a light above it. Perfect place for it. But he said, 'I don't want my friends to see that every time they come over.'"

If you're his college offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, you love the way he persevered through three systems before he got to you.

"Can you imagine what it was like to have four different terms for every play?" Chow asked. "This guy went through so much and yet he still accomplished so much."

If you're Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, you like the fact he's not a one-year wonder like the draftnicks are saying. That he has 45 college starts, the Pac-10 career passing record, and that he has the no-brainer tools.

"I saw every ball he threw the last two years and he has displayed the traits we're looking for. Arm. Accuracy. Movement. Height," Bratkowski said. "I think when you take the No. 1 pick in the NFL, you would assume he has the physical abilities to take you to the Super Bowl.

If you're Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, you

like the fact he's got a textbook release and throwing motion.

"He can really stroke it. Right over the top," Zampese said. "He throws effortlessly. It s not a struggle and it doesn't take a long time to come out of his hand. Once he decides to throw it, to the time it actually comes out of his hand, it's short. That's what you're looking for because it doesn't give the defense time to react."

If you're his fiancée, Shaelyn Fernandes, the goalie for the USC women's soccer team, you like the fact that he was your friend first semester freshman year first, and then your boyfriend second semester.

The best athlete?

"She gets me in tennis and distance running," Palmer said. "I get her in basketball."

"We were just so comfortable around each other," Fernandes said. "He likes to be a goof, to act like a kid, and have fun. We've got a lot in common that bonds us. Our schedules all through college were the exact same."

Sports and family are the bonds. One of the reasons she was drawn to him is his closeness to parents Bill and Danna, two brothers, and a sister. Fernandes comes from northern California in San Jose, where she lives in the same house where her mother grew up.

"I was also attracted to him because I knew what kind of family he wants in the future," she said.

Family is a big theme here. Bill Palmer ate lunch with Bengals President Mike Brown Thursday and the fact Brown has surrounded his business with his family impressed Palmer and reminded him of the closeness of his own family.

The Bengals liked the fact Carson had been raised in a stable environment, and Palmer made that clear when he said during his news conference that the one thing his parents gave him growing up was love. When Bill, an insurance executive, got a job in New York when his son was in high school, they decided Bill would commute because Carson had a better shot at getting a college scholarship playing in Orange County than in Connecticut.

"They sacrificed out of love for me," Carson Palmer said.

But the family is spreading out.

Not only is Carson starting a new job this week, but so is his father. Bill is a senior vice president in the agency division for John Hancock Financial Services, and he and Danna are moving to Boston. His youngest brother, Jordan, is a freshman quarterback at Texas-El Paso. His sister Jennifer lives in California with her two children and husband, and his oldest brother, Robert, lives in Baltimore with his wife.

And, after next week's minicamp, Carson and Shaelyn are going to look for a year-round house in Cincinnati. The storybook continues with a July 5 wedding at Pebble Beach, but he can already sense his no-fluff personality is a 12-month fit in his new town.

"I was born, I think, to play football," Palmer said. "I love the rush of winning and the rush you get of playing. I'm not super emotional. I'm not going to be jumping around doing touchdown dances or anything like that, but I'll definitely be high-fiving."

That's all the Bengals are looking for. They're looking for a leader down the road, not a cheerleader. Some have questioned his quiet personality and if that can translate into being a NFL leader. His family and new coaches don't see a problem.

"The people at USC thought he was their leader for them," Bratkowski said. "Different people lead in different ways. Some guys jump in and are vocal. Other guys lead by being stoic and being consistent through the good times and the bad."

His father has watched him literally schooled in the art of leadership from the seventh grade on. Bob Johnson, the father of NFL quarterback Rob Johnson, has tutored him since the seventh grade. Bill Palmer has never forgotten the first lesson.

:"It was in a classroom and I remember Carson's eyes getting big as Bob talked about the responsibility of being a quarterback," Bill said.

Which is probably why you never heard Palmer rip his teammates or bemoan his fate as he struggled through his first couple of years at USC. He was supposed to be the local savior, but he turned into the local whipping boy before leading the Trojans to a 9-2 record this past season.

"The thing about this guy is his character and what he went through out there," Zampese said. "You talk about the pressure. Every day you go to work you walk in there and there's a bunch of Heisman Trophies and national championships staring you in the face, and when you don't have success, you're going to get blamed. But he survived it and finished a champion."

The transition on the field? Zampese said he threw mostly routes under 12 yards at USC, but they were quick and accurate and he sees no problem for him making the adjustment to the 15-to-25-yard throws. He saw him throw enough long balls to know he's got the arm for the deep post.

"I don't think it matters how long the throw," Palmer said. "My strength is getting the ball down the field."

How long will it take him to play? A year? Two years.

"Every young quarterback is different," Bratkowski said. "The one thing he needs is to have people around him and Marvin (Lewis) is making a commitment to upgrade personnel, so that's good."

Palmer has already been through the abuse. The sarcastic headlines, the talk shows, the internet gossip. He already knows what to do.

"You can't pick up the sports page or pay attention to the internet," Palmer said. "I just paid attention to my coaches and what my teammates thought I was doing right and what they thought I was doing wrong."

He already has a Southern California soulmate of sorts in Zampese. Both went to Catholic high schools, and, in fact, Zampese's younger brother went to Palmer's high school, Santa Margarita. Palmer and Zampese both went to 'SC.

"We both like in-and-out burgers," said Zampese, who has already been working the phones with him once he got signed installing the offense for the first minicamp practice next Friday.

But Palmer sounds like he's ready for some chili. He's sick of the LA Law of hustle and bustle. He remembered Shaelyn's conversation with Cheryl Esiason a few months back and how she had wanted to raise her kids in Cincinnati and stay there forever before her husband got the chance to move back to New York and play for the Jets.

"I like it already," Palmer said.

The feeling was mutual, which is why he went No. 1.

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