Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has no worries about the injuries that derailed his 2014 season.
The path back would be brutal, and this, Carson Palmer knew. He had already traveled it once before.
Even with a November surgery to repair his faulty left ACL – and a timetable that once would have given anyone pause – the quarterback was "never" concerned he wouldn't return at 2015's outset to lead the Cardinals.
"Not even a hint of doubt," Palmer said Saturday, prior to the team's first practice of training camp. "I was cognizant of all the work ahead of me, but never did I have a doubt."
The impact a player can make returning from an ACL tear varies. The familiar refrain in talking about such things is "every player is different." Running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns the season after tearing his ACL in the 2012 season finale. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, after tearing his ACL in early December of 2013, needed almost all last season to find his rookie level of play.
Playing quarterback is different. Tearing an ACL, at least recently, doesn't have to hamper the performance, at least throwing the ball. Palmer doesn't expect to be any different.
"I think my past experience coming back from this injury will help a lot," said Palmer, who tore his ACL in the playoffs after the 2005 season and came back to throw for more than 4,000 yards in 2006. "Just knowing how I feel, how I might feel, the typical soreness that comes. Having that history I have a pretty good feeling about not worrying about it, and going out there and practicing just like it was every other year."
The Eagles' Donovan McNabb made a solid return from a 2006 ACL tear, playing in 14 games the next season with 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Tom Brady's devastating 2008 ACL tear in the opener was long forgotten by the time he racked up almost 4,400 yards and 28 touchdowns the next season. Even the struggles of Robert Griffin III last season, after tearing his ACL in the playoffs following 2012, didn't make for a tremendous difference in the stat sheet – a difference that could have been partly because of the offensive change between coaches Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden.
Palmer doesn't have that problem. There is stability in the offense with Coach Bruce Arians. Palmer's ACL tear was simple – as simple as these things get – without any other ligament damage.
It's crucial, because the Cardinals need Palmer on the field all season. No one wants another Sam Bradford, who was playing well in 2013 before tearing his ACL, and then tore it again in the 2014 preseason.
When Palmer went down in 2014, "the complexion of everything changes at that point," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald noted the Cardinals kept believing in themselves, but "take Drew Brees off the saints, Andrew Luck off the Colts, Peyton Manning off the Broncos, Tom Brady off the Patriots. It's a different team."
It may be possible the Cardinals have an even better Palmer coming into 2015. Palmer's shoulder, which was never 100 percent
after early season problems, got a healthy rehab at the same time Palmer was working on his knee. The regiment was one as if Palmer had surgery on the shoulder, even though he didn't. Wide receiver Michael Floyd said Palmer's arm was stronger after working out with Palmer in southern California last month, and Arians said Palmer's arm was "noticeably better" in the spring compared to last season, and Palmer acknowledged it might be stronger than ever.
Now comes training camp. The bodies will be closer to his knee now than anytime since he returned to the field, which will come with some held breath.
"Knowing him he'd probably like to get hit one time before we ever play a game," Arians said. "I hope it doesn't happen."
Palmer has no doubts regardless. He believes, after his 2006 comeback, he is mentally ready for everything. For the pressure, for the expectations, and for the hits that are inevitable.
"You wait to get the first couple out of the way," Palmer said, "and move on."