Palmer fully healthy, growing into role of Bengals leader

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) -Carson Palmer was fed up.

With so many Cincinnati Bengals getting into trouble, the Pro Bowl quarterback decided to speak his mind about a subject that most of his teammates were sidestepping in public.

"Enough is enough," he told reporters covering the Super Bowl in Miami last January.

The candid remark showed how Palmer began embracing a leadership role as he headed into his fourth season as a starter. Receiver Chad Johnson gets attention with his look-at-me antics, but Palmer is the player who makes the biggest difference on a team that needs direction.

"We've seen Carson really mature and evolve into not only the talented player he is, but a leader wanting to know how everybody else is doing and touching bases with other guys," coach Marvin Lewis said during training camp last week. "So, we've seen him grow a lot."

Palmer will have a lot to do with whether the Bengals make the playoffs this season, and rehabilitate their image in the process.

The Bengals finally made the playoffs in 2005 behind Palmer, who emerged as one of the NFL's best passers during his second year as a starter. Their first playoff appearance in 15 years came to a first-round end after Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen crashed into Palmer's left knee, tearing ligaments and cartilage.

Palmer made an unexpectedly fast recovery, regaining his starting job for the season opener, but he wasn't the same. His timing was off, his throwing motion was out of whack and he was paying too much attention to defenders near his legs.

By midseason, Palmer was back in form and the Bengals were back in contention, only to finish 8-8. While the season headed for its disappointing finish and the team's arrest list grew, Palmer started becoming more vocal.

"First of all, it's not my team or any individual's team," Palmer said last week, "but being a veteran and being a quarterback, you say things sometimes and some people listen."

Quickly, he added: "And some people don't."

Palmer has tried to mentor troubled receiver Chris Henry, who has been arrested four times, suspended twice and will sit out the first eight games. Palmer is one of several veterans who have talked to Lewis about getting tougher with players.

Palmer never shied away from speaking his mind. Now, he's making it a priority.

"I do feel that when things need to be said, I'm one of the people that needs to be saying them," Palmer said. "And when examples need to be set, I want to set an example. But in no way is this one individual's team, and nobody feels that way."

Increasingly, it's becoming his team in the same way the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts are viewed as Peyton Manning's team.

"I think he wanted to put some skins on the wall, so to speak, to have some credibility in his play before he could assume that role," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "He's had some great seasons, some Pro Bowl seasons. I think he wanted to achieve a level of success before he felt comfortable asserting himself."

On the field, it's the same old Palmer. And that's exactly what the Bengals want to see.

The knee is no longer an issue; Palmer didn't even wear a brace for an intrasquad scrimmage Friday night, when he knew he wouldn't get hit. On his first pass of 11-on-11 drills during camp, he hit Johnson perfectly in stride down the sideline, a play so pretty that the fans gave a collective "ahh!"

A year ago, he wasn't even on the field full-time.

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

There's another difference: Palmer has become a leader.

"His whole demeanor has gone from a pupil to a teacher," said offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who has been with him the last three seasons. "His whole confidence level has grown from getting the hang of it to being a veteran at it.

"He's what you want out there."

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