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Combine notes: No first-rounder for Bills

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2003 NFL Draft Combine

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Kiper's Mock Draft: QB Palmer solid at No. 1Insider

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Friday, February 21, 2003
Updated: February 25, 5:36 PM ET
Leftwich and Palmer eager to prove themselves
By John Clayton

INDIANAPOLIS -- Believe it or not, Carson Palmer wants to be a Bengal. That's what he says. He even sounds convincing. He's had several discussions with his agent, David Dunn, who has represented two Bengals quarterbacking disasters (David Klingler and Akili Smith), and came to the conclusion that the Bengals would be a perfect home for his Heisman Trophy.

Meanwhile, Byron Leftwich, Palmer's main competition to be the best quarterback in April's draft, admitted Friday that he broke his left tibia in November and played with a broken leg for Marshall in a bowl game. "I couldn't let my teammates go out there without me," Leftwich said. That unselfish act may have cost him the chance to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he has no regrets.

"I was playing college football at the time and I didn't want to hear about the NFL," Leftwich said. "I was just worried about being the Marshall quarterback. If anybody wanted to talk to me about the NFL and whether it was going to hurt me in the future, I didn't want to talk to them. I was worried about the present and being the Marshall quarterback."

I think I'm different than the guys that they drafted in the past. I'm not saying that I'm better than them, but I don't think they have met a whole lot of people like me. I look for the positive in everything. Whether it's Cincinnati or whatever team, I think I'm going to go in and I think I can turn a team around.
Carson Palmer on why he thinks he can succeed in Cincinnati

Leftwich's left leg and Palmer's desire to play for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1990 were the main topics during the fourth day of the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Palmer's strong finish to the 2002 season and Leftwich's injury flip-flopped the ratings for the top two quarterbacks in a quarterback rich draft. Both quarterbacks were open and revealing in interviews Friday.

First, Leftwich. He detailed the courageous ending to his great career at the University of Marshall and how he had to hide the reality that he broke the left tibia Nov. 2. Despite the break, Leftwich returned to finish the game, actually having to be carried down the field by his offensive lineman at one point.

It was one of the most memorable visuals of the college season. Leftwich added to his legend by filling out the rest of the story. Several doctors and most friends advised him that returning to the field on a broken leg was a wrong move. Sure, the odds were that he could play, but it would cost him valuable time preparing for the NFL draft.

Leftwich would hear none of that. His thoughts were with his teammates. After conferring with as many people as possible, Leftwich opted to continue playing. He knew the price, which could be millions if he is not selected No. 1.

"I didn't want to make that known to everybody because I still had some games to play," Leftwich said of the severity of his injury. "I didn't want those opponents to know that. It was small hairline fracture above the ankle. All I needed was five to six weeks to heal."

Had he shut down for the season, Leftwich may have been available for the Senior Bowl and he certainly could have worked out for teams at the combine.

"The process was that if I stayed off of the leg, I would have been back in five to six weeks, maybe four," Leftwich said. "Now, you count four to six weeks after the bowl game. That's why I can't run 40s. But I have been doing quarterback work for two to three weeks.

"Teams just have to understand that injuries are part of football. Unfortunately, it happened, but now I'm 100 percent. I've got to go out there and be the best player in the draft. I broke my left tibia but it's healed now."

Leftwich also has to explain to teams about his troubled left tibia. He suffered a hairline fracture in a different part of the same tibia as a junior. A rod was surgically inserted to help the healing process.

"I must have been clairvoyant because that rod really helped for the second fracture," Leftwich said. "My injury might have been worse if I didn't have the rod."

What teams have to decide, though, is whether they want to invest a top five choice on a quarterback who is tough enough to play with a broken leg, but at the same time has a leg that keeps breaking. Leftwich laughs it off by saying that he's had chicken pox twice, too. He's bounced back from that.

"If you hurt the leg twice even if it's in different spots, somehow you have a leg problems," Leftwich said. "But you've got to get past that. It's like hurting two different fingers and somehow you've got finger problems. It's just something you've got to go through."

Sounds like Kurt Warner with his thumb and hand injuries. Nevertheless, Leftwich believes he can bounce back from the broken leg with no difficulty.

Palmer, meanwhile, caught combine media off guard by saying that the Bengals appeal to him. Reporters reminded him that the Bengals haven't had a winning season since 1990. They reminded him that the Bengals normally can't entice free agents to come to Cincinnati. They reminded him that the Bengals annually leave millions of dollars of unspent cap money unspent.

Despite that, Palmer said he'd be honored to be a Bengal.

"You hear so many negative things coming in but I sat down with my agent," Palmer said. "He was telling me about their young offensive line, that they have a defensive-minded coach (Marvin Lewis), that they have one of the league's best backs (Corey Dillon) and the receivers (Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson) they have. That doesn't sound bad to me. It's a great place for a quarterback to go if they need a quarterback."

But Carson, Cincinnati has been a graveyard for quarterbacks.

"I think I'm different than the guys that they drafted in the past," Palmer said. "I'm not saying that I'm better than them, but I don't think they have met a whole lot of people like me. I look for the positive in everything. Whether it's Cincinnati or whatever team, I think I'm going to go in and I think I can turn a team around."

Palmer stresses his leadership ability from his years of being on struggling USC teams. He talks about his meticulous preparation for games. Like Peyton Manning, whom he has asked for advice, Palmer believes he is a student of the game.

The Bengals have the first pick, and they will shop it around for a couple of months, but if they can't get good value, they may just take Palmer. As they say in the theater in expressing good luck, "Break a leg, Carson." That same expression need not be mentioned to Leftwich.

John Clayton is a senior writer for