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Palmer passing, but return date uncertain

CINCINNATI (June 15, 2006) -- Carson Palmer dropped back to pass and decided to take it easy, protecting his rebuilt left knee while flinging the ball to a receiver during a minicamp drill.

With that one mundane move, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback showed how far he has come and how much progress he has to make in order to meet his goal of playing in the season opener.

"Now we've got a couple of months," Palmer said, following his most ambitious workout since his surgery. "I wish we had a couple of more months for me personally. But when you look at the flip side, if I am ready to play that day, that game can't come quickly enough."

Palmer has been immersed in his comeback since he had reconstructive surgery on Jan. 10. Kimo von Oelhoffen slammed into his left knee during the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff victory in Cincinnati two days earlier.

After the surgery, the Bengals acknowledged only that Palmer tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Dr. Lonnie Paulos, who performed the operation, told The Associated Press that the damage was more extensive and included torn tissue around the kneecap and cartilage damage that was repaired.

The team acknowledged the full extent of Palmer's injury for the first time on Thursday, confirming Paulos' account. Trainer Paul Sparling said the torn tissue around the kneecap -- which dislocated during the tackle -- has healed and is no longer a concern.

Palmer is aiming to return for the season opener on Sept. 10 in Kansas City -- exactly eight months after the knee was rebuilt.

"It certainly is cutting it close," Sparling said. "I much rather would have a little bit more time. But that being said, given the position he plays, given the successful surgery that's been done so far, given the fact that he's had an uneventful rehab, it's very conceivable."

Sparling said Palmer hasn't had a significant setback in his comeback. The worst problem has been soreness and some swelling that prompted him to rest for a day.

He was cleared to throw to receivers during 7-on-7 drills June 15, when defensive backs covered the receivers but no one rushed the passer. He also briefly ran the offense at the end of practice. Palmer was rusty and off-target, which was to be expected.

He moved cautiously and was careful not to put too much stress on the knee.

"It's something in the back of my mind and something I need to be aware of," Palmer said. "And as soon as I feel my body is ready take over and I'm ready to play, I need to wipe all that out and just play football."

Barring a setback, that point could come sometime during training camp. Palmer's teammates are curious to see how he responds the first time he's playing for real.

"How will he be able to adjust to the hits?" receiver Chad Johnson said. "Will it affect his knee? I think that's the only thing we have to worry about, because there's nothing wrong with his arm."

The Bengals won't rush him. Sparling wouldn't speculate about whether Palmer will be cleared to fully participate when training camp opens late next month.

"If we're going to make a mistake, it's going to be by holding him back too long, not pushing him out too soon," Sparling said. "There's too much riding on this. He knows it, we know it, and we're not going to be foolish about it."

Palmer said he's starting to get a feel for how much the knee can handle. He won't put himself in position to take a hit until he's confident the knee -- and his psyche -- will be intact when he gets off the ground.

"You never look forward to getting hit, but I'll be fine," he said. "I'm going to make sure that my body is fine, that my knee is healthy and I'm ready to roll. Getting hit in that game or whichever game it is that I'm back will be just like getting hit in any other game."

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