Two USC war horses look ready to come out of the gate fast in the new year with Carson Palmer and Keith Rivers continuing promising rehabs.
Palmer is on course to be cleared March 1 without surgery on his throwing elbow while remaining on a pitch count in California, and after Rivers had arthroscopic surgery to clean out an ankle both are expected to be full go when the club's offseason conditioning is expected to begin in late March.
The Bengals said Tuesday that the results of Palmer's Dec. 26 MRI continue to show that the small tear in his ulna collateral ligament has healed enough without surgery. Head coach Marvin Lewis has insisted for the past two months that Palmer would not need surgery and the latest MRI, combined with his late-season practice sessions, and the exams following those workouts have combined to prove Lewis right.
Rivers, the rookie who missed all but six games with a broken jaw, says he's back to 233 pounds that are not far off his playing weight. He'll be ready in plenty of time for the March workouts and has some incentive.
He got the only vote that Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo didn't get from the 50-member Associated Press panel that picked NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Rivers has been reading the heat he's taken in cyberspace and shrugged when told his voter, Jay Paris of southern California's North County Times, admitted he pulled a Florida 2000 and voted for the wrong guy.
"Before I was going down I think I was only getting better and hopefully I can continue to pick up where I left off," Rivers said looking ahead to '09. "It's a prove-you-wrong type of factor."
Rivers got hurt in the first moments of the seventh game of the season, but still finished with 50 tackles (31 solos), an interception, one pass defensed, and a forced fumble. Mayo, who started all 16 games, had 128 tackles, four passes defensed, and a forced fumble.