TEMPE, Ariz. — The date is etched in Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer’s mind.
Twice, while speaking to reporters following Tuesday’s mandatory mini-camp practice, he referenced Nov. 18, 2014, the day in which he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee that he had injured nine days earlier against St. Louis.
Now, 212 days after the season-ending injury, Palmer participated fully in a two-hour practice, including his first work in 11-on-11.
“I thought he was outstanding,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “Of the 100 balls he threw, he only had one bad one. He tried to throw one too deep down the middle late, but other than that everything was outstanding. He moved around well. He’s been moving around all the time. I thought his movement in the pocket, there was no hesitation in him. I had some hesitation a couple of times when I saw those guys fall down in front of him, but other than that, it was really good.”
Palmer said he didn’t notice the pass rush — “I know they can’t hit me,” he said, smiling — keeping his focus on his pre-snap reads, in-play progressions and footwork.
The footwork, especially, Palmer explained is where he’s seeing the most rust in his game.
It’s re-teaching the mind and body to get back on the same page.
“Being in the heat of the battle and directing protections. Footwork in the run game,” he said. “That’s something that — I’ve been working so hard at footwork in the pass game, but run game I overlooked a little bit just kind of waiting for this time because this is when you really realize when bullets are flying and guys are going full speed, angles and depths of your steps in the run game. But, it’s very expected. I knew it was going to come.”
Palmer knows because nine years ago he suffered the same injury
“And I think that’s why I’m in such a better place now is I know what to expect,” he said. “I’m not disappointed. I accept the challenge. That’s why I said there’s a lot of work to do and a long way to go. I know that because I’ve been here before.”
His own worst critic, Palmer pointed to five or six plays right off the top of his head that he wasn’t pleased with and wanted to revisit on film.
That brought a smile to Arians’ face.
“I hope he’s never happy,” he said, “and I don’t think he ever will be until he hoists that Lombardi Trophy.”
The expectations are that high for this year’s Cardinals team, especially with a 35-year-old quarterback, one that went 6-0 last season and has won 13 of his last 15 starts dating back to 2013.
Palmer, according to Arians, is under no restrictions
“The training wheels are off. He’s ready to roll,” he said.
A knee brace, which was hidden underneath Palmer’s black workout pants, is the only remaining sign of the injury. He plans to wear the brace all season.
At the start of OTAs (organized team activities), Palmer was cleared for 7-on-7 work but held out of 11-on-11 action, and there’s just something different about that full team experience.
“Last night was a long night; didn’t sleep great, just excited,” he said. “There’s nothing like it, there’s nothing like it. And when you do get injured and you have it taken away, it gives you a different perspective. I don’t know if it’s a new-found love for it, but just a different perspective. I’ve been anxious for a while.”
The work, however, is not over, and it will continue long after mini-camp concludes on Thursday.
Palmer said he’ll give himself a couple of days off before he’s right back on the field, in San Diego, as he was a year ago prior to training camp.
“This is just one of the many steps in the long road,” he said. “This was the goal from the get-go, from Nov. 18 on. Just one goal achieved, but there’s a lot bigger goals and a number of goals still to go.”