Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer takes part in 11-on-11 work Tuesday for the first time since tearing his ACL in November.
Carson Palmer had torn his ACL less than 24 hours before, and yet on this November afternoon he already was saying he would be back on the football field "hopefully by OTAs."
As the quarterback went along in his rehab process, the very real possibility that he would be back in 11-on-11 work by minicamp was also coming into focus – and Tuesday, as the Cardinals opened their mandatory work, that's exactly where their leader was, just shy of seven months since his ligament tore.
"This is just one of the many steps in the long road," Palmer said, adding it's "one goal achieved."
Better yet, coach Bruce Arians said, Palmer's work can go as fast as the quarterback now wants. There are
no limitations at this point.
"The training wheels are off," Arians said.
Palmer's work isn't a surprise. The veteran has been building to this moment in front of the world, doing everything in the recently completed organized team activities except 11-on-11. Even in that scenario, Palmer actually was on the field with 21 other players a couple of times working in slow-motion, walkthrough drives.
But Tuesday was the first time players were dancing around him with speed, when decisions have to be made quickly all the while with the chance someone slips at your feet. No one can hit the quarterback in the offseason, but accidents have happened, and even Arians acknowledged it was tough not to think about that.
"He moved around well," Arians said. "No hesitation. I had hesitation a couple of times when I saw guys
fall down in front of him."
Palmer said he hadn't really considered that possibility until it was brought up after practice.
"I know they can't touch me, so that part is irrelevant," Palmer said. "I'm used to it. It's part of the game."
The 11-on-11 work is crucial to Palmer. Nothing can replicate the pressure felt in the full-team work, whether he could actually absorb a hit or not. The only way to direct protections is with an offensive line and a defense. The only way to perfect footwork in the run game – a part of the game Palmer admits he's overlooked a bit – is in the heat of the play.
Palmer emphasized that because he has been through an ACL rehab before, nothing has happened that he has not expected. Getting back into the mix is an important part of the next step.
"You can't practice out here with a physical therapist or a trainer or just a receiver," Palmer said. "You need it with 10 other guys on offense and 11 guys on defense."
Palmer, who will continue to wear his brace as added protection, said he has every day planned out through training camp as his rehab continues beyond minicamp. He is where he expected to be health-wise, although he said he didn't sleep well Monday night, anxious to take the step that he finally did.
"He looks like the Carson of old form," safety Rashad Johnson said. "He threw the ball well, on time, on target, and it made us step our game up."
It's the only way Palmer knows to be ready for training camp, and ultimately the regular season. It's why, back on Nov. 10, he was already talking about how quickly he was going to be back on the field.
"He wants those reps," Arians said.
Pictures from the first day of minicamp 2015