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Change of Signals: Palmer to Be Starter

Bengal coach says former USC star, who didn't take a snap in 2003, will begin next season as the team's No. 1 quarterback.

March 02, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Carson Palmer did not play a single down as a rookie but he must have done enough to impress Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis, who promoted the former USC star and 2002 Heisman Trophy winner to the starting quarterback's job entering the 2004 season.

In replacing Jon Kitna, the NFL's comeback player of the year and the only quarterback in the league to take every snap for his team in 2003, Palmer will take over a team that remained in playoff contention until the season's final week.

"I've got a lot of work to do and a lot of preparation to get ready," Palmer told Associated Press on Monday before attending Tampa Bay safety John Lynch's charity golf tournament in San Diego.

"I'm leaps and bounds more comfortable, compared to when I first came in. I still have a lot to learn, but I definitely feel confident in the offense and can be successful." Although Lewis had hinted about such a move since the Bengals' final regular-season game in 2003, he said he decided on Palmer now to get his other players prepared for the change.

"It puts the pressure on the rest of our football team," said Lewis, who coached the Bengals to an 8-8 record in his first season. "That's why right now is the time to do this. I want everybody to understand the responsibility that comes to them. Now we've got to shift some of the responsibility on them. Jon did a lot for us, and Carson's going to have to grow into that role."

Palmer was drafted by Cincinnati with the first overall pick in 2003 and signed a six-year, $40-million contract that included $14 million in bonuses over his first two seasons.

"He's very, very talented," Lewis said on the Bengals' website. "He has done nothing since we drafted him to disappoint any of us. We're excited for him, about his future, his ability to help us offensively do things." The Bengals' original strategy was to bring Palmer along slowly last season, but he never got into a game as Kitna passed for 3,591 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions.

For Kitna, Lewis' decision was disappointing. "I'm in the backseat now," he said. "This is Carson's offense."

Money may have played a role in the Bengals' decision. In the final year of his contract, Kitna counts $4.35 million against the NFL salary cap, $3.3 million of it as 2004 salary.

Last month, Cincinnati approached Kitna's agent about an extension but the veteran quarterback was not excited about the idea of reducing his current salary to help the Bengals lower their salary cap figure.

"The one thing that Marvin said is that they wanted to try and throw the ball over the top of people more," Kitna said on the Bengals' website. "I just wish they had given me more opportunity because whenever we tried to throw the ball over the top of people, we were pretty successful. But the opportunities weren't as many as I would have liked, or as many as the guys on the team would have liked."

Some of Kitna's teammates on offense did not seem surprised by the move.

"We knew it was coming," wide receiver Chad Johnson said on the team's website. "We knew sometime he was going to start. So let's go to work.

"Kit had a great year. It would have been nice to see what he would have done if he kept going, but obviously Marvin and the coaches feel this is the way to go, so let's go."

To help make up for lost time, Palmer is expected to get the majority of snaps once Cincinnati starts mini-camp March 22.

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