Palmer sees old hand in new spot

Posted: 10 p.m.

Carson Palmer is energized by the 40 new players that take the field next Tuesday and an offense that is new enough to have a batch of different plays and schemes.

But of those 40 players that weren't here a year ago when the '08 voluntaries started, one seems to intrigue Palmer above all others even though Chris Henry has already caught eight touchdown passes from Palmer of at least 25 yards. Palmer expects Henry to line up in wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's X spot opposite Laveranues Coles' Z when the first team takes its first snap on May 19.

"He's had an offseason like no other; he's worked here every single day," Palmer said Wednesday. "He has a great attitude. I'm just really proud of the guy. I'm happy for him. He's at a good place in his life, a good place for his family. He's showed up to work here and he will all year long. There's not a doubt about that."

Palmer admits that not having Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for last year's voluntaries were a factor in the offense's glacial start even before Palmer hurt his elbow and missed 12 games. And even though Ochocinco got hurt with a preseason separated shoulder and didn't look in good shape when he arrived last year according to even his own mentor, Charles Collins, he has decided to work in Los Angeles with Collins through Memorial Day and not be with the club.

And there may be more than a physical price since offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has heavily edited the playbook after a season the franchise finished last in NFL offense for the first time in its 42 seasons.

"You definitely need guys to be around to work on new plays; we've got a lot of new stuff we're putting in," Palmer said. "We've got a number of new plays, a number of new schemes. Stuff we haven't done here that's really good stuff.  It's great. You just tweak things. You put in new concepts and we're going to try those. Of course, it would be nice to have (Ochocinco) here to get the timing down and see what he does well within that new stuff, but it doesn't sound like he'll be here. ... When Chad shows up, we'll get to work."

But Henry is already here.

And heading into his fifth season and last chance with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after three league suspensions, that fourth and last conviction three years ago gets further and further away. And his stats from '05 and '06, the only years he didn't lose at least four games, get bigger and bigger.

A total of 67 catches with 15 going for touchdowns. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Henry's frame and ability to pluck and play the ball has always lured Palmer from anywhere on the field. Along with the eight 25-plus TDs to Henry, Palmer has found him six times from the 10 and in. That was when Henry was mostly in the Z position, but Palmer thinks he can make the move.

"He's a perfect fit for that spot," Palmer said. "He's got a lot to prove. He's as talented as anyone in the league. He's as talented as Chad is. He definitely hasn't had the success Chad has had. He could end up being a real nice X, a real nice weakside receiver. He's an explosive player. He's definitely a gamebreaker."

If The Ocho is absent, wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard sees Henry and second-year man Jerome Simpson getting plenty of snaps at the X. Look for Andre Caldwell starting his second season as the first man in the slot as he challenges veteran Antonio Chatman.

"I don't see there being much of a problem," said Sheppard of Henry's move from Z to X. "It will be nice to get him to learn another position. With T.J. gone, we need more of those guys who can play as many spots as possible. Andre has practiced and played all three, and I'm of the mindset, 'Let's get all these guys out there and just go.' Competition is a good thing and we've certainly got it."

The new faces in new places, along with just getting behind center for the first time since Oct. 5 in Dallas, has Palmer excited about getting back on the field. He's on a pitch count of 150 to 175 passes a day, and he says a regular spring practice consists of about 150. It's the two-a-days at the mandatory minicamp next month and the handful of two-a-days in training camp where he'll have to cut back.

But he doesn't expect Bratkowski to hold back in May and June.

"Everything," said Palmer when asked if the biggest changes are in the passing or running game. "You have to evolve in this game whether you're No. 1 in offense or No. 31. You have to keep putting in new stuff to make yourself better. We're still running our base stuff, the staples, but there are some new wrinkles. Some stuff we'll use the first game, some the third game, some might not make it to camp. You tinker with it and see what you like."

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