Early returns show Carson Palmer's rested arm is paying dividends

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GLENDALE, Ariz. –- There's something different about Carson Palmer's right arm.

It's difficult for the 37-year-old quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals to pinpoint exactly what it is, but he knows his throwing arm doesn't feel the same as it did at this time last year. But the rest it's been getting after throwing for 44,269 yards since 2004 has begun to pay off.

"It's hard to explain," Palmer said. "You just feel better. You feel like you have more zip, more velocity. You feel like you can go out and throw 150 balls in practice -- which I'm not going to do. It just feels different."

If it were up to Palmer, he'd throw that many passes, or more, in practice every day. Under his new regimen, he might not even throw half that number some days.

A conscious effort by the Cardinals to rest Palmer's aging arm entered a new chapter last weekend when he reported for the 15th training camp of his career. After seeing Palmer's arm fatigue early last season because it was overworked during last OTAs, minicamp and training camp, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians began giving his quarterback Wednesdays off, starting in early November.

The extra rest continued into OTAs this year, when Palmer was held out of throwing drills for the first few days. He began throwing late in OTAs and into minicamp, but entered training camp with a structured rest schedule. He'll have more days off and, like he did on Tuesday, won't be throwing in every receiver drill.

Not throwing hasn't been easy. Palmer has been trained to throw hundreds of times between March and June, so when he cut back significantly this year -- he reduced his workload by hundreds of throws -- it felt "odd."

"It just feels like something is wrong," Palmer said.

But he listened to those he considered experts in the quarterback field -- namely Arians -- and the benefits have already begun to show.

"I feel great," Palmer said. "I feel great. I had a tremendous July. Really, starting since March it's been a great offseason -- physically, mentally.

"I listened to people around me that were pulling back the reins and listened to the number of throws, the overworking. I heard all that and I absorbed that and I implemented it into my plan for July and June, but it's been a great offseason."

Palmer spent part of June and July vacationing, including a trip to Lake Tahoe to golf in a celebrity tournament, and part preparing for the season. His plan was to revamp some of his mechanics, which he fine-tuned during weeklong sessions with teammates at his home in San Diego, while slowly ramping up his throwing to get his arm strong enough for camp.

It was during one of those weeks that wide receiver J.J. Nelson saw what kind of difference the rest has made on Palmer's arm.

"Man, it was crazy," said Nelson, who joined fellow receivers Chad Williams and Jeremy Ross, tight end Troy Niklas and backup quarterback Drew Stanton to work out with Palmer this summer. "This guy's really throwing this thing. That [trip] helped us out a lot, especially going out there and getting our timing down and getting adjusted to his arm.

"He's feeling pretty good."

The biggest difference Nelson noticed, and what receiver John Brown has seen during the first few days of camp, has been Palmer's improvement throwing the deep ball.

Brown said Palmer was underthrowing receivers last season on downfield passes. He attempted 65 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. That's the fewest since he was traded to the Cardinals in 2013, not counting the 2014 season, when he played in just six games. He averaged 9.89 yards per attempt on those throws, the lowest since he arrived in Arizona.

On all passes, Palmer averaged 7.09 yards per attempt -- his lowest since 2010.

"You could tell his arm was bothering him," Brown said. "There were some days he didn't want to throw the deep balls."

Palmer finished last season having thrown for 4,233 yards without a full complement of receivers. Michael Floyd was unproductive and eventually cut after a late-season arrest, Niklas was out for the majority of the season, and John Brown and Jaron Brown were dealing with health issues and injuries.

"That's a feat in itself," tight end Jermaine Gresham said of Palmer's numbers, given the receiver situation.

At times last season, all Palmer could do was laugh.

"It was one of those years that just seemed like injuries kept piling on," Palmer said. "You can let injuries frustrate you and you can get mad at it, but when they kind of continue to pile on and you just kind of laugh and smirk at it. You hear, 'So-and-so do did something' and ‘so-and-so is out for the year.' It's just one after another.

"That's part of the game and you deal with it. And we dealt with it."

Palmer wouldn't rank last season's achievement at all. He doesn't put much stock into stats, aside from wins and losses, but Palmer has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in four of his last five seasons with the exception coming in the injury-laden 2014. Palmer also threw for more than 4,200 yards in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

During the first half of last season, when Arians believed Palmer's arm was tired, Palmer completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 2,068 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions while averaging 7.33 yards per attempt. The Cardinals went 2-4-1.

After he began resting on Wednesdays during the final eight games, Palmer completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 2,165 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, averaging 6.87 yards per attempt. Arizona finished the year 4-4. Palmer missed Week 5 in San Francisco with a concussion.

The goal of resting Palmer's arm was to preserve it for this coming regular season, and he'll continue getting Wednesdays off. Arians expects Palmer to play the way he did in November and December, not the way he did in September and October, because of the rest.

"If he plays that well, we should be a good team," Arians said.

While the true verdict of Palmer's rest remains to be seen, Arians said, it's clear that not using his arm has helped Palmer.

"He's stronger than he has been in a while," Arians said. "He worked out the whole time. It was obvious when he did practice in minicamp. It was really, really high velocity so just maintaining that, and we got many things to measure that now -- chips in balls, all kind of crap -- so we'll just keep watching that."

Those who catch Palmer's passes have also noticed a difference, especially the receivers whom Palmer targets deep. Larry Fitzgerald said he never saw a drop-off in Palmer's arm last season.

"Now I don't run many routes past 20 yards, so his arm strength looked great to me," Fitzgerald said with a smile.

But Gresham said the rest has "done wonders" for Palmer's arm.

"This camp, everything has been crisp from him," Gresham said. "He's always thrown a good ball, but the balls are perfect."

For John Brown and Nelson, Palmer's downfield throws this year are looking more like they did in 2015 than in 2016.

"He's hitting them right," Brown said. "He's putting them right where he needs to be. We can tell it's helping him."

Nelson got a sneak peek at Palmer's rejuvenated arm this summer in San Diego. They ran drills on deep passes, similar to ones they've been doing during training camp. Palmer has looked the same in both, Nelson said.

"He's really putting it out there, making us run up under them," Nelson said. "We did a lot of drills catching the ball on our outside shoulder, what coach calls an 'NFL catch,' and he would just put it out there like we had to go run and get it.

"I could tell, man, he's ready to roll."