Palmer Healthy, Ready to Lead Bengals

AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) - The high-tech, hinged knee brace hangs from a
hook in Carson Palmer's locker, a symbol of how far the quarterback
has come from his career-threatening injury.
A year and a half later, he doesn't even need a brace.
Palmer is back to full health and playing at full speed during
the Cincinnati Bengals' weekend minicamp, a tantalizing sign for an
underachieving team that failed to make the playoffs last season.
This year, there are no excuses.
"It feels good for him," running back Rudi Johnson said. "He
doesn't have to answer as many questions about the knee. I'm happy
for him. At the same time, it's definitely a good thing on the
field. Having your leader back going into minicamp and training
camp healthy makes everything better."
Palmer tore ligaments, dislocated his knee cap and suffered
cartilage damage during a playoff loss to Pittsburgh at the end of
the 2005 season, the Bengals' first playoff appearance since 1990.
He was limited in minicamp and training camp last year, and
wasn't fully back to form until the middle of the season - still
way ahead of schedule. The Bengals finished 8-8 for the third time
in coach Marvin Lewis' four seasons, and came away wondering what
might have been if Palmer hadn't been so limited at the outset.
"It will be different with us being able to go out and throw
with Carson this year," receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "Last
year, he couldn't do that. Obviously it will help us. We'll be a
better team."
Palmer threw for a club-record 4,035 yards last season and was
MVP of the Pro Bowl. He has spent the offseason working out with
his receivers, trying to get their timing down so they can get off
to a fast start.
His knee is such an afterthought that he isn't wearing the
precautionary brace for minicamp this weekend.
"I'll definitely be wearing it for games," Palmer said. "But
in (workouts) if I'm not going to get hit, there's no need to have
it on."
The knee is no longer an issue. Missing out on the playoffs
still stings.
The Bengals have invested a lot of money in keeping their
offense together the last two years. They have been one of the
league's best at piling up yards and points, but haven't been able
to become one of its elite teams.
Palmer senses that the Bengals have a window of opportunity to
become one of the best.
"I think our window is open," he said. "I don't know if it's
open for a year or if it's open for five or six years. Only time
will tell that. We're definitely good enough to win a Super Bowl.
But a lot of teams are good enough. It just depends on how hard you
There's more to it, of course. The Bengals severely hurt
themselves last season with all of their misconduct. No. 3 receiver
Chris Henry was benched for one game and suspended for two more by
the NFL. Middle linebacker Odell Thurman was suspended for the
entire season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Henry has been suspended for the first eight games of the 2007
season. Thurman can apply to the league for reinstatement this
Palmer and other veterans have urged Lewis to crack down on
players who refuse to act responsibly. Palmer reiterated during
minicamp that the Bengals have enough talent to be a title
contender, if they can get their act together.
"We can be one of the better teams in this league, and we
should be one of the better teams in this league," he said. "We
just need to go out there and play like it."
Although it's important for the team's leaders to speak out,
Palmer knows that it's ultimately up to the troubled players to
change their lives and the team's image.
"I mean, there's only so much you can say," Palmer said.
"Nobody needs to hear, 'Hey, don't do anything illegal.'
"Some guys made some bad decisions and decisions they wish they
could have back, but there's nothing you can really say (to them).
You can state the obvious, but that doesn't really do anything."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)