That's impressive for a man who, last December, was one day away from undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair the partially torn elbow ligament that limited him to four games last season. "We got the final MRI back, and [the ligament] was back together," says Palmer. "The doctors were all high-fiving me." Bengals fans who suffered through the dozen '08 starts from
The Bengals will benefit from the return of talented players whose '08 seasons were derailed by injuries, like cornerback
But equally important will be the contributions of players whom the Bengals signed, as Lewis says, "Off the junk heap" -- and he means that in a positive way. Starting middle linebacker
"Crocker played lights out for eight weeks [as a Bengal] last season," says Zimmer. "I had him before, when I was in Atlanta for one year, and right now he's playing the best he's ever played. When some of these guys get cut or are on the streets for a few days, or weeks, or whatever it is, then they realize what it was that really made them NFL football players."
The 53-year-old Zimmer, one of the NFL's most respected defensive coordinators for a decade now, counts himself among a group that includes a number of men with something to prove. "I thought I was going to be a head coach a lot sooner than this," he says, candidly. "That's why I tell them, I include myself in all this stuff. I've interviewed for jobs and no one's wanted me. I throw myself in there with all of them."
Lewis won't admit to thinking as much -- "I think every season is the same. That doesn't change," he says -- but at least one player will.
"I got him," says Ochocinco, one of nine players remaining from '05. "I've got all of us. It won't be any of our last stands, because we are going to compete, and we will make a playoff run this year."
That might seem to be a tall order, as the Bengals play in the same division as the seemingly mighty Steelers and Ravens, but this group just might have what it takes to pull it off -- and, potentially, to save their head coach's job.
An intense Kentucky lightning storm rolled in just before evening practice was due to commence last Monday, and as the Bengals awaited word from Lewis as to the session's fate (it was ultimately cancelled, and the players soon hurried off into meetings), they huddled beneath the dripping bleachers of Georgetown's Toyota Stadium. It was, to me, something of a refreshing scene.
"This doesn't look very much like the NFL," I remarked to the gentleman standing next to me.
"It's not the NFL," the cynical gent quipped. "It's the Bengals."
• Palmer continues to enjoy the presence of his younger brother,
• I had something of a confusing conversation with the always-talkative Ochocinco. Said Ochocinco, "I just want the critics to keep on talking negative about us. I love it. It fuels me. I don't care what they say."
"So if it fuels you, doesn't that mean that you do, in some way, care what they say?" I asked.
"No! I don't care. I just like to hear it," he replied.
About one thing, though, Ochocinco was clear. "Last year I was frustrated during the offseason. I was unhappy. Now the pieces are there to have me back in the right state of mind, and I'm feeling so good about it." That's a positive development for these Bengals -- one of many.