Palmer will help, but when will he be up to speed?

by | Senior NFL Columnist

So here's the question: Considering that Carson Palmer hasn't played this season, hasn't been through training camp, hasn't been through minicamp and joins a new team with a new offense, new philosophy and new terminology, how much of an immediate impact does he make with the Oakland Raiders?

"Well," said one AFC coach who knows Palmer, "all he has to do initially is stand back there and hand off over 30 times a game. It's not as if he has to carry these guys to last-minute wins as he did in Cincinnati."

OK, I'll second that. I just wonder how much he can deliver immediately. So I asked people who know Palmer, most of whom believe it will take him a few weeks to get comfortable in his new environment ... but who believe it won't be as much of a problem as it might others.

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"It's not like this is a rookie stepping in for the first time," said one league source.

The guess is that Palmer serves as Oakland's backup this weekend vs. Kansas City. Then the Raiders have a bye, with Palmer working with coaches to catch up, after which he should suit up as the starter vs. Denver on Nov. 6.

That doesn't come from the Raiders. It comes from coaches who know him, know the Raiders and know the situation. They think it will take Palmer a couple of weeks to get used to things in an around Raider Nation before he's ready to take over as the team's quarterback.

Only one problem: He hasn't played in over nine months. He's not in football shape, and, frankly, I don't know what kind of shape he's in, period. Plus, he's stepping into an unfamiliar scene. It's not as if he's returning to the Cincinnati Bengals after missing half a season. He's going somewhere he hasn't been.

"I understand," said a league source, "but he's 1,000 times better than the quarterback they have, and every time he goes out to practice they're going to know it.

"Plus, he's a helluva guy, and he's going to be so energized to be there it will carry over to the rest of the club. They're going to know that they have themselves more than just a quarterback; they have themselves a leader.

"And he's going to look like a Raider. He's bigger than everyone, he's stronger than everyone and he throws the ball farther than everyone. That's a Raider."

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The conditioning will be a factor. It always is. I remember talking to Detroit's Jim Schwartz this summer when he said the biggest hurdle that players who went through the lockout had to overcome was learning the difference between being "in shape" and being "in football shape." They don't understand, he said, until they engage in contact and go through drills.

In Palmer's case, it may be when he takes a snap in a game.

"But this guy is a workout freak," said our AFC coach. "I understand he will have to get himself into 'football shape,' but he's not going to have to lose 15 pounds. He's going to come to the Raiders ready to play."

His point about relying on his running backs is a good one. Oakland is the league's second-ranked rushing offense, and they're physical up front -- grinding down opponents while Darren McFadden and Michael Bush run over, around and through them. In its second defeat of San Diego last year, the Raiders ran 52 times for a season-high 251 yards, with quarterback Jason Campbell asked to throw only 16 times.

Carson Palmer can do that.

"Carson Palmer is the real deal," said an AFC offensive coordinator. "I know the Raiders paid a high price for him, but people don't know how good he is ... or can be ... because there was so much going on in Cincinnati.

"Believe it or not, I think there will be an order and discipline here that will benefit him. Yeah, I know his numbers lately weren't that good in Cincinnati, but there was a lot going on there that isn't in Oakland."

Now there's plenty going on in Oakland, and Carson Palmer is in the middle of it. There's no question his addition makes the Raiders better. What we don't know is how much.


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