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Palmer follows closely in brother's footsteps

Rookie Jordan is trying out for spot on the Bengals, where his older sibling Carson is the franchise's best performer.

June 16, 2008|Josh Katzowitz | Special to The Times

CINCINNATI -- Thirty-five minutes after workouts are finished -- and the vast majority of his teammates have departed the Cincinnati Bengals practice field -- Carson Palmer continues throwing to his young receivers.

They're rookies, so, at times, Palmer actually must coach them. Here's how you run a route, he might say. Here's how you catch the pass I'm throwing. Here's how we do things in Cincinnati.

Across the field, Jordan Palmer is working just as hard. He's not coaching the young receiving corps, but nonetheless, he's throwing and practicing and learning the lessons his brother teaches. He's showing the Cincinnati coaching staff -- which has long since departed -- how much he wants a job as the Bengals third-string quarterback, his big brother's backup.

Jordan Palmer wears black shorts and a white shirt. Carson Palmer is wearing gray sweat pants. That's how you can tell them apart.

Or is it Carson with the black shorts and white shirt and Jordan sporting the sweats? Actually, it's hard to tell -- even up close. It's better just to wait until they enter the Bengals locker room and then note the locker to which they flock. Or you can look at the hair color (Jordan Palmer is blonder).

"They're pretty much spitting images," offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. "It's like they're cloned off each other."

Here's one surefire way to tell the difference: Carson Palmer, the former USC standout, is the one surrounded by the media horde, the one on the billboards, the one who's teaching the rookies.

Jordan Palmer, a Mission Viejo High graduate, is the one who must learn, the one away from the spotlight. He's the younger brother of the superstar, and that image probably won't ever change.

In this city, Carson Palmer is a hero, the quarterback who ended a 15-year playoff drought in 2005 and the one who, fans believe, could lead the team back to the Super Bowl.

He was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft, and after sitting out an apprentice season, he's been the franchise's best performer ever since.

And its model citizen. He hasn't been involved in legal disputes like so many of his former teammates that helped turned the Bengals into a national joke. He's not Chad Johnson, who has talked his way out of the city's good graces. Instead, he's here during workouts, and he's teaching the receivers that surround him about life in the NFL.

Little chance for Jordan Palmer -- who relies on Carson's tutoring as much as anybody -- to compete with the spotlight that engulfs his older brother.

"He's always been cast in that role," Carson Palmer said. "Since I've been in high school, he's always had a lot of pressure on him and always been judged. He's used to it, and he's used to that comparison from other people. But he carries himself as his own man. He doesn't accept what other people say about him. But he doesn't fight the role that everybody kind of sees him as. He knows there's no way to hide from it or dodge it, especially here in Cincinnati. But he does a great job of it."

Jordan Palmer's solution to the kid brother complex is to ignore it. He enjoyed a Carson-less existence while playing at Texas El Paso, where he averaged 27 touchdown passes and more than 3,300 yards passing during his final three years. He also figured he'd make his own way when the Washington Redskins took him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

But after one exhibition, the Redskins waived him, sending him home to California and transforming him into a quarterback without a team.

"It was rough," Jordan Palmer said. "I went to Washington and had a very small opportunity. I learned that any opportunity you get, you have to take advantage of it. It was tough for me, because I'm a football player. That's what I know how to do. When you let that go away, it's tough."

What came next was tougher. An unemployed football player during the NFL season must find the motivation to stay sharp in case a team needs him to fly out the next day and compete for a job.

So, he woke at 6 every morning to keep his internal clock in tune. He stayed active during the day to keep in shape.

And he waited for the next call.

"At 6 a.m. every morning, I was surfing," said Jordan Palmer, who said he worked out for about 10 teams last season. "I'd lobster hunt at night. The next morning, I could be headed to New Orleans, studying all day and night for a new offense. I didn't want to lie around on the couch until I got signed on. I was going all day, because you don't want to be sleeping in."

Although neither of the Palmers wanted the Bengals to draft Jordan -- "I wanted to go to somewhere like Baltimore or Cleveland and compete against him," Jordan Palmer said -- Cincinnati gave him a chance this year, signing him as a free agent in January and creating the possibility that, for the first time in the Super Bowl era, two brothers could play quarterback for the same team at the same time.

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