Bengals' Palmer, Packers' Green finally back
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 last season.
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 around me."
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."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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