Palmer plugging away

5-20-04, 6:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese shrugged. After the first week of on-field work with Carson Palmer as the Bengals No. 1 quarterback, there is no news.

Which is good news in a quarterback switch. On Thursday, Palmer's first crack at the two-minute drill came out quicker than last year and he hooked up on another long distance call with wide receiver Chad Johnson for the third straight day.

"We just want him to keep progressing, keep building on things," Zampese said. "No news is good news."

No headlines. Just headway. After getting his

first look at Palmer this week, safety Kim Herring, a veteran of seven NFL seasons, grudgingly gave the quarterback some credit, an anathema for defensive backs.

"He's pretty accurate. I'm pretty mad about that," Herring said. "When you think you've got the angle on it, he throws it a little bit to the right or a little bit to the left and you just can't get your hand on it. I'm on my own pace to figure him out."

Of course, the true tests are months away. The SATs don't come until September in a hostile stadium and the defense deploys into a package harder to read than Chaucer. But the one lesson this week is that Palmer is steadily accurate. Herring shook his head. He really had to give Palmer credit on a couple of the come-back routes he has run with Johnson.

"I have to admit it, that out route is very nice," Herring said. "That come-back route is the hardest pass to cover and it's the hardest throw for a quarterback. It's so far outside and so deep, and he's thrown it in there a couple of times to Chad."

He has also heaved it to Johnson's fingertips on the "9" route in either seven-on-seven or one-on-one drills every day this week. That is the go pattern, the bomb, the quick six, whatever cliché you want to throw for the long pass. With Palmer's golden arm and Johnson's bronzed shoes, the "9" route looks to be No. 1 with these two guys.

"That's his route. That's what puts fear in people," Palmer said. "That's how he's going to get open off of that route. Because everybody is going to be so afraid of him just running deep and he breaks it off into a post, or a come-back, or curl, or whatever it may be.

"It's just timing," Palmer said. "It might take throwing the ball six times to him or it might take 600 times to get timing, but we've had plenty of chances to work with each other and we've got a pretty good gauge for each other."

Palmer isn't sure it's possible to overthrow Johnson.

"You've got to get it up early to overthrow him," Palmer said. "That's why he's so dangerous with that route because he can make up so much ground so much faster than most cornerbacks."

For his part, Johnson thinks timing is so overrated that he doesn't want to waste words on it, which is quite a concession for him.

"It has nothing to do with chemistry. Just drop back and throw and I'll get there because it's my job," said Johnson, looking for the least athletic person in the locker room. "You could drop back there and we'd complete 100 percent of our passes."

But Johnson is well aware of the arm getting it to him.

"Everybody knows about Carson," Johnson said. "The No. 1 pick in the draft. He's good."

The No. 1 pick in the draft is adamant that the Bengals don't turn their playbook into connect-the-dots simplicity because of his inexperience.

"We don't want to do that," Palmer said. "We have one of the best offenses in the league and we're changing one guy. If we're changing five or six, you might want to change some things around. But we're really only changing one guy, so why change for 10 guys?"

Palmer says he likes how the Bengals have changed their approach to the two-minute drill, which appears to have been a change they would have instituted with a veteran quarterback. It's probably the biggest reason why people thought the drill looked faster Thursday than last year.

"We're doing our two-minute a lot different than we have in the past," Palmer said. "Just the way we're calling all the plays. Now the receivers have to know the signals instead of us telling them the exact route. It's a lot quicker and more efficient. It makes us better. Jon (Kitna) loves it, too. He's not used to it because he's been doing it the other way for so long. He's kind of the guy I test everything out on. If he likes it, I like it."

On Wednesday, Palmer faced blitz packages but it's hard to gauge him on those now. It's so early n the preseason that the defense only has a limited number of pressures and, like Herring says, "you have to see how he does when he knows we're not coming."

But, the vet is impressed.

"So far, so good," Herring said. "I think he reads defenses well for this being the majority of snaps he's taken. And, it seems like he's got a command of the offense. Guys are listening to him, and he's motioning guys where to go."

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