CINCINNATI -- The first time Carson Palmer jogs onto the
field to call a play, the comeback will be complete.
The 64,000 fans at Paul Brown Stadium will erupt when Palmer --
with a bulky knee brace showing through his tiger-striped pants and
socks -- lines up to take the first snap Monday night on the same
field where he tore up his left knee seven months ago.
No more acting like a patient. He's a player again.
And that means the Green Bay Packers are going to hit him at
some point, maybe even take a shot at his legs. When that happens,
the air will momentarily go out of the crowd, just as it did the
last time he went down.
Can he handle it?
Palmer's return is the biggest of several expected Monday night,
when the Packers and the Bengals will get a much better read on
where they stand heading into the regular season.
Running back Ahman Green, linebacker Brady Poppinga and safety
Marquand Manuel are planning to make their first appearances for
Green Bay. Green had put together four consecutive 1,100-yard
seasons before he tore a tendon in his right thigh midway through
Green is expected to start and carry the ball about a dozen
times, giving first-year coach Mike McCarthy an idea of what to
expect when the season begins.
"The game will dictate that," McCarthy said. "I want to get
him in there and see how he feels after 15 [plays]. I want to be
smart. I want to take the same approach as we did with the other
guys in game one."
The Bengals are going to be cautious with Palmer as well, seeing
how he handles his biggest test yet.
Palmer tore ligaments and dislocated his left knee on his first
pass of a 31-17 playoff loss to Pittsburgh in January. He hopes to
play in the season opener Sept. 10 in Kansas City, exactly eight
months after the injury.
How he does on Monday will tell a lot.
"Hopefully I can get through a number of different situations
and overcome those obstacles," Palmer said.
The biggest test will come the first time the surgically rebuilt
knee gets hit. Palmer hasn't been tackled during practice, so no
one knows for sure.
Will the knee swell up? Will Palmer try to protect it? Can he
get that awful memory out of his head?
Until recently, he had been looking at the pass rush during
practice, trying to make sure no one hit the leg. That's the worst
thing a quarterback can do.
"But the last week and a half, I've felt great," Palmer said.
"I haven't been looking at the rush, and I've been staring at the
defense. I have been looking downfield and not at what's going on
Palmer's doctors believe the knee is strong enough to take a
hit. Palmer knows he needs to get hit to help with the
psychological part of his comeback.
"If it happens a couple of times, that's great," he said. "My
knee is strong enough to withstand it, and I'll have a knee brace
on. I won't know how it will react to that until it happens."
Everyone will be watching to see how he reacts.
"I had a chance to be around him a little bit when he was at
USC, and you root for guys like Carson Palmer," McCarthy said.
"He's a talented young man who has really hit his stride these
last two years. You want a guy like that to come back."