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Roundup: Palmer Off To Solid Start; Rookie QBs Not & More
In an article published late Friday, Associated Press writer Terry Kinney wrote: "The wait is over for Carson Palmer.

"The No. 1 pick in last year's draft began his transition from backup quarterback to starter when the Bengals opened their rookie mini-camp on Friday."

"I still feel like a rookie," Palmer said. "Last year went by so fast."

Palmer said the game has "slowed down" since his first mini-camp. He sees the field better and reacts quicker. It will take the new players a while to get that feeling.

"I know what it's like to be in their shoes and be in here for the first time," Palmer said. "I definitely feel like I'm a lot further along than they are, but I still consider myself a rookie just because I don't have any (regular season) snaps."

Head coach Marvin Lewis called the first day "a good indoctrination" for Palmer and the newcomers. He expects Palmer to easily slide into the role of team leader.

Lewis hoped to ease the transition for Palmer by announcing on March 1 that the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner would be his starter this fall, even though Jon Kitna had a career season and was the NFL comeback player of the year.

According to Cincinnati Enquirer beat man Mark Curnutte, Lewis was asked repeatedly at yesterday's post-practice news conference why he made the move to Palmer and the coach replied by making his strongest statement to date.

"He's got the most skill and ability of anybody we've got in the building," Lewis said.

Palmer flashed his big-play ability during practice. His performance also hinted at the mistakes that will likely happen as he learns. He has yet to take an NFL snap.

He threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Patrick Johnson, who beat rookie cornerback Keiwan Ratliff.

"He got the ball in there in some of the zones that I really haven't seen a quarterback do," said Ratliff, the team's first second-round pick. "Just watching him on TV and hearing about him, when you get on the field with him and sometimes you feel like you have a receiver blanketed and he gets it in there, you realize just how good he is."

Rookie safety Madieu Williams and rookie linebacker Caleb Miller intercepted Palmer once.

"Some good, some not so good," is how offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski described Palmer's day. "Just what we expected."

And fortunately, as Curnutte put it: "Good or bad, Palmer does not tip his mood. His reaction doesn't reveal whether he has thrown a pick or a TD."

"Nothing has changed with him," Lewis said when asked about Palmer's demeanor. "That's why we picked him. It's all part of it. Nothing is too big or too small for him. He has a very even keel. We like that about him. He can handle the ups and downs of it and not seem to reflect on it and not have it wear him down."

Lewis is confident that Palmer will grow into a team leader.

"Leadership comes with that position, but you can't go in and expect to talk about it," Lewis said. "You've got to lead and do things. He has been a hard-working guy since he got here. He doesn't have anything to prove. He just has to play his position and do his part."

Chad Johnson is not worried.

"He did real good. He's Carson Palmer. He's the No. 1 pick. He handled everything real well. All the passes were there," Johnson said.

"He's still the same. I'm sure he's going to pick up things he learned from [Kitna] last year. When it's time for him to step up when things get sloppy, I'm sure he will."

But as Kinney suggested, Kitna will be waiting in the wings and could take over if Palmer struggles. And the youngster may be hard-pressed to match Kitna's 2003 numbers in his first season. Kitna had career highs in completions (324), passing yards (3,591), touchdown passes (26) and completion percentage (62 percent).

He was the only NFL quarterback to play every offensive snap.

Nonetheless, Palmer said he was ready, but he doesn't have to shoulder the responsibility alone.

"It's not like I'm the first-year guy coming in with a bunch of rookies around me," he said. "Whether it's your first year in the league or your 21st year in the league, you've still got to step up and take command of the team. ..."

In a related item. ... Also according to Curnutte, Peter Warrick was held out of yesterday's initial workouts because he is rehabilitating his right knee. He suffered torn cartilage Dec. 14 and underwent surgery.

Though Warrick has participated in passing sessions for the past three weeks, "We didn't want to risk any contact," Bratkowski said. ...

The remaining receivers -- Chad Johnson, Kelley Washington, Patrick Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Kevin Walter (and other veterans) -- who hit the field Friday did so under NFL rules that allow veterans to participate in a prescribed number of on-field coaching days in the offseason.

The final four practices of the mini-camp will be for rookies only.

Meanwhile in New York. ... Eli Manning's first mini-camp workout with the Giants was somewhat of a bust.

According to AP sports writer Tom Canavan, Manning botched two snaps, threw an interception and slipped on another pass, sending a wobbling duck of a toss on a 30-30 route, 30-yards up in the air and 30 yards downfield.

But it was caught by Tim Carter for a completion.

"I still have a lot of improvement to make, a lot to learn," Manning said, surrounded by about 50 reporters. "It's going to be a long process and I look forward to it."

While Manning made some nice throws, free-agent rookie quarterback Jared Lorenzen threw the ball with more zip.

The fumbles on the snaps were sloppy. Manning worked with two different centers in the drills.

"He had excellent huddle command," head coach Tom Coughlin said -- according to Canavan, a little sarcastically.

But Coughlin, who spoke with Manning after the fumbles, also liked what he saw from the Mississippi quarterback.

"He's fine, he's going to be fine," Coughlin said. "It will take a little time. There are a lot of things to adjust to. Obviously all the new things thrown at him, the different receivers, the different people working with him, the high grass. It will come. It will be fine."

Defensive end Michael Strahan said Manning is like a deer in the headlights now.

"I'm just expecting him to come in and do his best," Strahan said. "I don't think there is any pressure on him to come and take over this team and be the man. I think he has to understand we are all willing to wait and to be patient with him."

Manning handled the situation like a veteran. He made no excuses. He said he planned to work hard, and showed a sense of humor when asked about all the attention.

"There is more press here than the whole state of Mississippi combined," Manning said.

Even with Kerry Collins gone, Manning refused to claim the starting job. He said his first goal is to earn the respect of his new teammates.

"I am going to prepare myself for the first game," Manning said. "If they put me in, I am going to be ready. ..."

And in San Diego. ... According to AP sports writer Bernie Wilson, "Philip Rivers fit right in" during his first practice with the Chargers.

"He struggled," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said after the NFL's worst team opened its mini-camp Friday. "There's just eight million things going on out there."

Rivers had one pass deflected, then was picked off by linebacker Donnie Edwards on the next play. Incumbent Drew Brees wasn't much better. In fact, Brees also had a ball tipped and then threw a pickoff. Later, he vowed to keep his job.

"By them going out and getting a quarterback, I don't feel like I've been pushed away," Brees said. "I still feel like this is my team and that I'm the starting quarterback of this team and it's my job to take us to the promised land."

Considered the team's quarterback of the future three years ago, Brees won six of his first seven starts, but went 4-16 in his last 20. Last year he was benched for five games and pulled from two others.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson said Brees is ready for the challenge.

"I don't think he's going to back down at all," Tomlinson said.

According to Wilson, how much Rivers plays as a rookie will be determined over the next several months.

"I'm going to come in and compete like I'm going to have to take the snap the first game," he said. "Whatever's asked of me at that point, I'll be ready."

Schottenheimer doesn't anticipate Rivers having a hard time making the transition from North Carolina State to the NFL.

"This will not be too big for Philip Rivers," Schottenheimer said. "I'm talking about it from the emotional and intellectual standpoint. ..."

Other Fantasy-specific news and notes from around the NFL. ...

In Pittsburgh. ... Receiver Plaxico Burress is boycotting the Steelers' mini-camp, but his agent said it has nothing to do with his contract, which expires at the end of the season.

Head coach Bill Cowher said he was disappointed.

"It is an unexcused absence," Cowher said. "I'm very disappointed in his decision and we are ready to move on with or without him."

Agent Gene Mato said Burress wasn't attending the three-day mini-camp because of a "personal matter. ..."

In a semi-related note. ... According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat man Ed Bouchette, team officials have opened negotiations with Tommy Maddox's agent. Maddox was promised a pay increase by club officials from the $750,000 stipulated in a contract he signed in 2002.

Both sides would like the deal to be done soon, although it cannot become official until they release linebacker Jason Gildon (and his $3.65 million salary) after June 1.

Also according to Bouchette, Jerome Bettis took the first snaps at halfback Friday, with Duce Staley second. ... Tight end Jay Riemersma, who was not supposed to practice because of shoulder surgery, went through all the drills with his teammates. ...

In Denver. ... According to Rocky Mountain News staffer Lee Rasizer, Quentin Griffin lined up as the first-team halfback when the Broncos held their first mini-camp workouts of the year Friday.

His standing as the second-team halfback to close the 2003 season temporarily bumps him up a notch to starter with Clinton Portis now a Redskin.

"He is, on paper," head coach Mike Shanahan said when asked is Griffin is his starter. "Is it very close? Sure. It's going to be very competitive. But we won't know for sure until the first game."

Griffin knows he needs to allay concerns regarding whether he is too small, at 5-foot-7, 195 pounds, to handle a full workload. But he does figure he is better equipped to handle the battle mentally in his second season, and he was quicker than all the Broncos backs at first glance.

"I've got a year under my belt and I kind of know how things work and feel more comfortable, so we'll see," Griffin said. "I'm just going to keep up the hard work."

Others are just as eager to find their niche.

Veterans Mike Anderson and Garrison Hearst -- as well as rookie second-round pick Tatum Bell -- join Griffin in the battle to become the next workhorse in Denver. Another potential contender, Ahmaad Galloway, is currently playing in NFL Europe.

"All I know is that every year we get a lot of backs in here and we keep quality backs here," Anderson said. "It makes it fun. It makes you want to come out here and compete."

Hearst is coming off arthroscopic right knee surgery to repair meniscus cartilage and is pressing in an attempt to gauge his progress. His drills were limited to those within his position and others operating "against air," instead of defenders.

"I'm kind of watching a lot of things and still working on getting strength in the leg," Hearst said.

Rasizer went on to note that Bell was struggling with maintaining his strength, period. His first memory as a Broncos player will be gasping in the mile-high altitude.

At one point, he stood with a towel on his face as trainer Steve Antonopulos watched him intently. The rookie was given an inhaler to aid his breathing.

When Bell carried the ball, he failed to display the type of speed that accompanied his label as probably the fastest back coming out of the draft.

"I thought I was in shape. I come up here, and it kind of was a shocker to me," Bell admitted. ...

Also in Denver. ... According to Boulder Camera sports writer Kyle Ringo, Dwayne Carswell, who has played tight end in the NFL for 11 seasons, will try to switch to tackle, where the team has little depth this year.

Shanahan went into the offseason not knowing who his tight end might be next fall with Shannon Sharpe mulling retirement.

Sharpe last month decided to return, producing a logjam at the position, with veterans O.J. Santiago and Jed Weaver signed as free agents and added to a mix that included Carswell, Patrick Hape, Mike Leach and Jeb Putzier.

Carswell has beefed up to more than 290 pounds in order to ease his transition.