Palmer shows all the right moves

1-13-03, 2:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

MOBILE, Ala. _ USC quarterback Carson Palmer is saying all the right things.

No, he's not looking to pull a "John Elway," and engineer a trade so the Bengals don't take him with the No. 1 pick.

"Not that. Whoever takes me, I'll go," said Palmer here at the Senior Bowl. "I'll work as hard as I can. It doesn't matter to me. I just want to have a chance to play in the NFL."

David Dunn, his agent, seconded the motion Monday as his client prepared for his first practice for Saturday's game, which is played largely for the pro scouts.

"If it's Cincinnati, that's fine," Dunn said.

Of course, what else are they going to say? And the man who is going to have a huge say if they do take a quarterback has yet to be hired.

But maybe the other guy with with the other huge say offered a slight clue

Monday. Bengals President Mike Brown chose to attend the South's practice, where he would not only see Palmer, but two other pretty good quarterbacks in Chris Simms of Texas and Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech.

But with his size and strength, the 6-5, 235-pound Palmer is viewed by many as the only quarterback worthy of the top pick, which would be the third straight year with Mike Vick going to Atlanta two years ago and David Carr to Houston last year.

"(Palmer) doesn't have the natural instincts that Carr has," said one NFL general manager. "But he's probably got more raw talent than most guys you'll see. He's not going to come in and play right away, but he does have some excellent skills."

Palmer is showing a competitive streak by just showing up and putting his mega signing bonus on the line by playing.

"I never once thought about not coming," Palmer said. "Ever since I got the invite, I've really been happy about it. I'm looking at the opportunity to compete with the best guys in the country and learn the pro style offense of the Lions. Just have the opportunity to learn some new things and compete against some great guys."

The Lions' staff is coaching the South and the Texans are working with the North, but the Bengals' coaches were supposed to get the North because under new Senior Bowl rules the staffs with the two top picks in the draft get to coach the teams. But the Texans took their place when Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau got fired and put the staff in flux.

If the Bengals do draft Palmer, they probably won't do what they did with David Klingler and Akili Smith and play him fairly early in his rookie season. Not with Jon Kitna coming off a good season. But they would probably ease Palmer in behind Kitna by his second year, which would be the last year of Kitna's deal.

"I'd love to have a chance to really learn and absorb an offense, but you never know what's going to happen," Palmer said. "If you get thrown in the fire early and have to experience it, that would be good, too, so I don't really know that yet."

If he has been coached to be politically correct, you'd have to say his pro debut has been seamless. No, he has never been to Cincinnati, but he's heard the names.

"I know they have guys like Peter Warrick and Corey Dillon and a bunch of talented guys, so it's a very talented team," he said.

PERRY MEETS WITH STEELERS: Bengals safeties coach Darren Perry, who played all but one of his nine seasons with the Steelers, could be headed back to Pittsburgh. The Bengals gave permission to Perry to talk with the Steelers and he planned to do so Monday, fueling more speculation that the Bengals are going to have virtually a new slate of coaches on defense because they plan to hire defensive guru Marvin Lewis as head coach.

But Perry also thinks he'd be a good fit with Lewis. They both broke into the NFL in Pittsburgh in 1992,

Perry as an eighth-round pick and Lewis as the linebackers coach. Lewis broke in under Dom Capers and former Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, when the zone-blitz trend was born.

"I'm sure his concepts are similar. I don't think he's changed that much. It'd be a good fit," Perry said. "It all started back there in '92, I can't imagine it would be all that much different. And Marvin has done well adding some things and using a 3-4 or 4-3 depending on his personnel."

Perry thinks Lewis would be a good call for a head coach because he saw him work to get the respect of some very good players.

"I remember as a rookie hearing the guys complaining some about how hard he worked them," Perry said. "But in the end, I think they gained more respect for him. He didn't back down from those guys one bit."

Perry looks at the varying big-time players Lewis has coached: Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Ray Lewis and says, "He's coached personalities, but he was able to deal with them and get them to play at a high level."

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