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Bengals open camp without suspended LB Thurman, top pick Hall still negotiating contract

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) -Linebacker Odell Thurman was gone. Receiver Chris Henry was an afterthought. Top draft pick Leon Hall was missing.

Two suspensions and a contract impasse thinned the Cincinnati Bengals' first practice of training camp Friday, a reminder of what they'll have to overcome to get back to the playoffs after a disappointing break-even finish last season.

At least they have a healthy Carson Palmer to help them through it.

Unlike a year ago, when Palmer was still severely limited by his comeback from reconstructive knee surgery, he could do everything at full speed Friday - and do it impressively, too.

His first throw during an 11-on-11 drill was a long, perfect pass down the right sideline to Chad Johnson that drew a loud "ahh" from the crowd.

"There's no comparison," Palmer said. "No insecurities about my knee or second-guessing anything. I feel confident and comfortable and healthy and in good shape and all that. So it's a lot different from last year."

A few things are familiar.

Last year, the Bengals also opened camp without Thurman, who was then getting ready to serve a four-game suspension. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell later extended it to a full-season suspension after the middle linebacker was arrested for drunken driving.

On Thursday, Goodell rejected Thurman's request for reinstatement, saying he had to sit out another season before applying again. Bengals players were counting on having him back.

"We've grown as a team without him being here," defensive lineman Bryan Robinson said. "You would love to have him here but at the same time, we have a championship we're trying to win, and that's with him being here or not."

Henry, the team's No. 3 receiver, has been suspended for the first eight games of the season for repeatedly violating the NFL's conduct policy. He's allowed to practice in training camp and play in the preseason games.

If the first workout is an indication, he won't be doing a lot.

Henry stood in the back of a cluster of defensive players, his helmet cradled in his hands, during most of the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 plays. Receivers who are trying to take his spot - Tab Perry and Antonio Chatman - ran his routes instead.

Henry has declined to talk to the media since he received his second suspension in two years. For now, they're moving on without him, hoping he stays out of trouble so he can come back at midseason.

"We'd love to have Chris for the opening day, but we'll get him back later on in the year," Palmer said.

Henry's absence represents a chance for Perry, a sixth-round draft pick in 2005 who missed all but two games last season because of a hip injury.

"I feel like I'm in the mix a whole lot more," Perry said, walking off the field after the two-hour practice. "I'm just trying to focus on doing well. I don't want to think too much about taking anybody's spot. Everybody's got to perform and let the chips fall where they may."

Two draft picks weren't signed before the first practice: Hall, a cornerback from Michigan who was taken 18th overall, and fifth-round pick Marvin White, a safety from Texas Christian. White agreed to a four-year deal after practice ended Friday night.

Last year, the Bengals came to terms with first-round pick Johnathan Joseph shortly before the first workout. Hall's agent, Doug Hendrickson, didn't return phone messages. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said before practice that both unsigned draft picks were close to agreements.

"Both guys will be here in short order," Lewis said. "I think both players want to be here and there really isn't much jimmying around or maneuvering that can be done."

Several veteran starters have been excused from full workouts at the start of camp, including left tackle Levi Jones and right tackle Willie Anderson. Jones is recovering from knee surgery, and the team is going easy with Anderson, a Pro Bowl player entering his 12th season.

Joseph, a cornerback expected to move into a starting role, hurt his foot during minicamp and isn't fully recovered. Six others also missed the first workout, including running back Chris Perry, who broke his leg in November and may not be ready for the start of the season.

"Most of them, hopefully, will be cleared up here in two or three weeks, some as early as a week," Lewis said.

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