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Heisman Trophy winner to back up Kitna

CINCINNATI -- Carson Palmer has moved up in the Cincinnati Bengals' order of clipboard holders.

The Heisman Trophy winner is now the No. 2 quarterback, only an
injury away from getting to play. But he'll remain a passing
arm's-length away as long as Jon Kitna keeps doing what he has for
the past three games.

Kitna threw three touchdown passes Sunday in a 34-26 victory
over Baltimore that solidified his hold on the job that will
eventually be Palmer's inheritance.

With Kitna avoiding mistakes, the Bengals (2-4) have won two of
the last three games, matching their victory total of last season.
Coach Marvin Lewis is trying to bring Palmer along without causing
a disruption for Kitna and the offense.

"Right now, he is the leader of that group and he sticks up for
them," Lewis said. "And we have to keep supporting him."

Lewis also wants to develop Palmer for next year, when he's
expected to be the starter out of training camp.

It amounts to quite a balancing act.

Palmer, the No. 1 overall pick in last April's draft, had been
relegated to third-string until Sunday, when Shane Matthews was
designated the emergency quarterback.

"Now he's one play away from playing, and we're all counting on
him," Lewis said Monday. "We believe in him, or we wouldn't do
that."

Palmer left Paul Brown Stadium shortly after the game ended,
avoiding reporters, and wasn't available on Monday, when Lewis gave
his team an extra day off as a reward for beating the Ravens.

Lewis has been coy about the young quarterback's readiness. He
said he planned all along for Palmer to move up to the backup role
during the team's bye week, when he could get more snaps in
practice.

The first indication came when he was listed as the backup on
Sunday, the first game after the bye.

"In Carson's case, we've held his feet to the fire the whole
time to be in that situation," Lewis said. "I had the opportunity
to be around what I thought was the ultimate pro in Trent Dilfer,
and how he approached being the backup quarterback in Baltimore
before he became a starter.

"I talked before the draft with Carson regarding that, after
the draft and again last week to make sure we're taking those steps
and that he does work like that."

It will stay that way as long as Kitna keeps the Bengals headed
in the right direction and continues to cut down on the
interceptions and fumbles that have been the hallmarks of his
seven-year career.

In the last three games, Kitna has completed 64 percent of his
passes -- well above his career average -- for 714 yards with six
touchdowns and only one interception, caused when his arm was hit
as he threw.

It's a marked improvement for a quarterback who has never gone
more than two consecutive games without an interception. And he's
done it without a healthy Corey Dillon, who missed one game and
most of another with a groin strain.

"That's how we should be playing," Kitna said, after going
16-of-27 for 274 yards Sunday. "It shouldn't surprise anybody in
that locker room. We've been trying to do it all year."