Palmer works it

2-23-03, 5:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ As the NFL world departed the RCA Dome here Sunday after watching the nation's best throw, Southern California's Carson Palmer appeared to retain his reputation as the draft's top quarterback.

But with Kansas State's hugely-talented four-way threat, Terence Newman, set on a surprise workout Monday with the cornerbacks, it's not yet clear if the Bengals think that also makes Palmer the best player in the draft and worthy of the No. 1 pick.

"You can see why he's the Heisman Trophy winner," said Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer of that other Palmer. " The guy's a very, very good player, and he didn't do anything today to tarnish that reputation."

It was Chris Palmer who saw David Carr throw on Quarterback Sunday last year on the way to making him the top pick. For obvious reasons, Bengals' coaches declined to discuss if this year's workout by Palmer had confirmed the same for them.

But one NFL head coach saw enough in the dome.

"He's the best quarterback. A slam dunk," said the NFC coach, wishing for anonymity. "He reminds me very much of Peyton Manning. He was technically perfect. They play a lot like. I think this guy is going to be a very good quarterback. His fundamentals are perfect."

But Carson Palmer disagreed after the 90-minute workout in which he chose not run the 40-yard dash. After being unable to throw for a couple of days, he thought he botched some throws.

"I missed a couple of balls," he said. "It went all right. I felt good on everything. I just expect to be perfect on all of them, and I wasn't."

But that didn't deter team officials from altering their opinion on his poise and zip.

"No question in my mind he threw the ball the best of anybody out there today," said a NFC quarterbacks coach.

The emerging consensus is the second group that threw was more impressive than the first. The second group included Palmer, Chris Simms of Texas. Dave Ragone of Louisville and Washington State's Jason Gesser.

Florida's Rex Grossman and Miami's Ken Dorsey were in the first group, where California's Kyle Boller decided to run the 40-yard dash and not throw. And yet Boller, along with Simms, helped himself Sunday when he ran a fast 40 time that some scouts said broke 4.7 seconds.

But new Jacksonville quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson, just a month removed from his 10-season hitch in Cincinnati, said it's still early in the evaluation process. And he scouted Palmer throw for 425 yards against Notre Dame last season.

"This is my 11th combine and the quarterbacks don't usually look as good as they are," Anderson said.

Another former Bengals quarterback, Turk Schonert, the new quarterbacks coach of the Giants, said there are plenty of reasons why.

"It's hard to throw to a guy you don't know," Schonert said. "Guys have different speeds, guys run routes differently.So as far as timing and accuracy, it's hard. "You look at mechanics. How they drop. What kind of footwork he has. Delivery."

According to the scouts, it is the fundamentals that make Palmer so attractive. One NFC personnel man said when it comes to polish and execution, Palmer is a cut above the field.

"He's been well coached," Schonert said. "He's got good mechanics."

But the Bengals are reportedly not close to a final decision and it may be awhile. They also have admirers of Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, and he won't work out until April 7 because of a stress fracture in his lower leg.

Plus, with new head coach Marvin Lewis a firm believer in chemistry and defense, the Bengals figure to take a long look at Palmer's intangibles and defenders such as Newman and Penn State tackle Jimmy Kennedy.

The Bengals started the probing Saturday night, when Palmer said he met with club for one of his 15-minute interviews. He also said Bengals President Mike Brown was in on the meeting, which impressed him.

"They're definitely excited about trying to turn it around," Palmer said. "But it's too early. So much can happen. I'm not sure how they feel."

Which is how the Bengals want to play it for now.

"We're looking at a bunch of guys at that spot," is all Lewis would offer as he left the building.

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