Carson Palmer stepped under center, called out a few signals, then dropped back to pass. Scanning the defensive backfield, he spotted a receiver going deep along the right side and rifled a pass to his back shoulder for a completion.
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So what if it was a drill against his teammates during a voluntary minicamp in helmets and no pads.
After weeks of studying and throwing against garbage cans, it was good for Palmer to take what he’s learned about his new team and new system against live competition.
”It’s completely different,” Palmer said on Tuesday, the first day of voluntary workouts for the Arizona Cardinals. ”It’s full go, 100 percent, guys are going full speed. A lot of what we did in the weeks before were walkthrough speed, kind of half speed, and now there’s a defense across the ball. Before, there was trash cans in front of us … now there’s some good football players across from us and it’s been good competition for us.”
Arizona has struggled to find a consistent quarterback since Kurt Warner retired in 2009 and has put a lot of faith in Palmer.
The Cardinals have started three straight seasons with a new quarterback and last year went through a revolving door of four signal callers without much success, losing 11 of their final 12 games.
With the promotion of Steve Keim to general manager and the hiring of Bruce Arians as head coach, Arizona got rid of two of last year’s quarterbacks, releasing Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
The Cardinals then turned to Palmer, swapping a few draft picks with Oakland and restructuring his contract after he was due to make $13 million.
The first overall draft pick by Cincinnati in 2002, Palmer appeared to be headed toward retirement thanks to a severe knee injury and an elbow problem. Instead, he was traded two years ago by the Bengals to Oakland, where he became the second quarterback in team history to throw for over 4,000 yards as the Raiders went 4-11.
Now Palmer is in the desert, where he has to learn a new team, a new system and new teammates.
What may help his transition is the system Arians runs.
Arizona’s first-year coach had success with it while in Pittsburgh, winning a Super Bowl with Ben Roethlisberger under center. Arians became Indianapolis’ offensive coordinator last season and led the Colts to a 9-3 record as interim coach while Chuck Pagano was undergoing treatment for leukemia.
”It’s very, I guess user-friendly would be the right word,” Palmer said of Arians’ system. ”There’s a lot on film to watch, plenty of texts in the playbooks and diagrams, pictures. It is easy to learn. It’s not easy, but some systems you get in, it’s difficult to learn because there’s not a lot of history, but with this, there’s a ton of history with this offense and this offense being successful, so it is an easy offense to get used to.”
Still, it’s going to take some time for Palmer and the rest of the Cardinals to be comfortable with it.
Arians not only brought in a new offensive system, he changed the way Arizona will play on defense and special teams. He and the coaches got their first look at the players running at full speed and there’s still a long way to go.
”It was a lot of fun to finally get out here with a helmet on,” Arians said. ”It will be a lot better when we get the shoulder pads on and we can really tell what we’ve got.”
Palmer is sold on what Arians and his staff have put together so far.
He said the Cardinals have installed about 75 percent of the offense from the playbook, but only ran about 5 percent of it during the first workout. Arizona has two more days of this voluntary minicamp and will get a better gauge during a mandatory minicamp in June, but it was a good start for the first day.
”I’m getting my feet wet, but for being three weeks into a playbook and having a playbook to take home and film to watch what coach Arians did last year, it’s a phenomenal system,” Palmer said. ”It’s been very productive, won Super Bowls. He’s coached against the best and for the best, and I’m excited to keep installing and get deeper and deeper into the book.”