“Absolutely,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen responded a few minutes and feet away.
The line that preceded the identical refrains was straightforward: Is Carson Palmer — who passed for more than 3,970 yards just once over the past four seasons — still an elite quarterback? The Raiders’ previous regime apparently thought so as Oakland gave up a first-round selection in the 2012 draft along with a conditional second-round pick in 2013 to the Cincinnati Bengals for Palmer’s services midway through last season.
Allen was the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos when the Raiders secured Palmer, who sat out the entire preseason along with the first six games of the regular season in a dispute with Bengals management. There’s no way he could have buyer’s remorse, but Allen appears to be more than content with his No. 1 QB.
“He has great poise, great leadership,” Allen said. "He already has a command for the offense. I think he’s done a nice job working with some of the young receivers in trying to get them on the same page. The passing game in the National Football League is sophisticated. There are a lot of nuances to it.”
And this isn’t even close to the same offense he ran in Cincinnati or even a season ago in Oakland, which ended with the Raiders falling short of the AFC West title (and the playoffs) by a tiebreaker to the Broncos. Palmer will no longer be counted on to be just a drop back passer as the offense installed by coordinator Greg Knapp will require plenty of movement out of the pocket.
“We are getting more and more comfortable every time I get out on the field or sit in on a meeting,” said Palmer, who had reconstructive knee surgery following the first of two Pro Bowl seasons in 2005. “I still have a lot to learn and there will be some fine tuning. Now, it just comes down to mastering the little things.”
Palmer, who turns 33 in December, won’t be mistaken for backup QB and former Ohio State player Terrelle Pryor in the scrambling department. But he’s shown early in training camp that he is mobile and, more importantly, can find targets downfield on the move.
“From what I’ve seen, he looks sharp,” veteran defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. “He can place the ball anywhere on the field. He can make the throws. We are excited to have a veteran quarterback to get things done.”
Much has been made about the rust that Palmer may have shown after he joined the Raiders last season. He did throw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (13) for only the first time in a season where he played more than four games, although he still had an impressive yards per game average (275.3).
“This is the National Football League,” Allen said. “It’s hard to come in like he did with no training camp, no preseason and miss half the season while you’re sitting at home eating potato chips. It’s a mentally demanding position and it requires a lot of reps, even for the great ones. We have training camp and the preseason, so I expect him to be a top quarterback like he’s been throughout his career.”
Maybe more importantly, Palmer has a healthy — and possibly more dynamic — backfield.
Darren McFadden was already out for the year with a foot injury when Palmer assumed the role of starter in Week 8. McFadden has yet to play an entire 16-game slate as various injuries have plagued his four seasons in the NFL. Meanwhile, fullback Marcel Reece, who signed the free-agent tender in the offseason, is expected to prove to be a versatile commodity with Michael Bush’s departure to Chicago.
“I don’t feel like I have lot to prove. I just want to stay healthy,” McFadden said. “I feel like we have a very explosive offense. We have some great, young receivers. We have a great backfield. We just have to go out there and put it all together.”
A new general manager (Reggie McKenzie), head coach (Allen) and new owner (Mark Davis, son of the late Al Davis) are all in place for training camp here in wine country. Of all the changes, however, it could be the most notable holdover from fired coach Hue Jackson’s one-season tenure (Palmer) who will have the most sway over whether the Raiders make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
“Win games,” Palmer said when asked about the naysayers. “It’s not about statistics. It’s about winning games. That’s what we’re going to do this year.”