Carson Palmer looks around him and sees just how good the Arizona Cardinals could be.
”I think this is by far the most talented team I’ve ever been on, top to bottom,” he said.
Whether that talent translates to success on the field could depend in large part on the performance of the 34-year-old quarterback in his second season in coach Bruce Arians’ system.
A year ago at this time, Palmer was trying to figure it out.
Now, he knows it well, reacting to situations rather than having to think too much about what he is supposed to do.
”It lets you play with a certain level of confidence but also just lets you play with some comfort,” he said. ”It’s not experimental this year like there were some things last year as you put in a new system and you’re trying to find what guys do well, what guys don’t do well, what guys can do this, what guys can’t do certain things. We have a very good feel for that.”
Palmer spoke to reporters after the morning walk-through and before the first full-fledged practice of training camp on Saturday afternoon.
After being on some bad teams and teams engulfed in turmoil, he is enjoying the stability of his situation.
”It’s been awhile since it’s been so stable around me. It’s been five years, six years,” he said. ”… It’s not up and down. It’s not possibly going to change drastically right before camp like it has before for me. Just being very stable, an even-keeled mood and flow coming through July and OTAs and all that and now that camp’s here, I feel just different than I’ve ever felt.”
When Arizona went 10-6 last year, just missing the playoffs, it was just the third winning season of his NFL career.
The Cardinals’ success was anchored in their defense as Palmer and the rest of the offense grappled with the intricacies of Arians’ system.
As the year went on, the offense got better.
In the first half of the season, Palmer threw for 10 touchdowns and was intercepted 14 times as the Cardinals went 4-4.
In the second half, he threw for 14 touchdowns and was intercepted eight times – four of them in one game – and Arizona went 6-2.
”When you look at some of his interceptions he had last year, he was right on target for his first and second reads,” Arians said. ”The pressure hit him and it was `Where’s my dump off? Where do I get rid of the ball?’ We threw a couple of interceptions to guys that were running across the field where we weren’t on the same page.
”Those, knock on wood, were pretty much eliminated this spring.”
Palmer said it just took time to get comfortable with the offense.
”You know that this guy is going to do exactly this and you’re supposed to do exactly that,” he said. ”Just that kind of comfort level, that ease of being on the field and knowing exactly what you’ve got going on around you, and that’s something you don’t get until you experience it over and over and over again.”
The chemistry with the receivers also took some time.
”It comes from repetition and just continuing to work with each other, `’ Larry Fitzgerald said. ”He can look at me and I can understand what he wants me to do, the adjustments he wants me to make. It’s comforting knowing that you have that rapport with your quarterback.”
Palmer put up some big numbers last year, as he has done often in his career. He threw for a career-high 4,274 yards – his fourth 4,000-yard passing season and second in a row.
The yards passing ranked third on the Cardinals, behind only Neil Lomax (4,613 in 1984) and Kurt Warner (4,583 in 2008).
This year, with the addition of speedy receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and John Brown and an expanded role for dynamic second-year running back Andre Ellington, Palmer sees an Arizona offense ready to take off.
Training camp, Palmer said, will be crucial to that success.
If players succumb to the inevitable lulls in the weeks leading up to the season and lighten up on the effort, he said, ”you’re just going to be an OK team.”
If they live up to Arians’ mantra of getting better from each walk-through to each team meeting to each practice, Palmer said, ”you have a chance to be special.”