GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- The voice in Carson Palmer's head keeps telling him to be patient. It urges him to make the pass in front of defensive coverage and forgo the deep ball. It tells him to settle for the first down and worry about the touchdown later.
But he's young (24) and ambitious, and the voice isn't always convincing. So much is expected of the first pick in the 2003 draft and Palmer doesn't want to disappoint.
"In this league, being in the position I'm in, I always feel I need to come in and do something spectacular," he said this week. "[But] I know I don't have to go in and throw a perfect, amazing pass to wow the crowd."
So, in Palmer's first summer on the job as the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback of the present, the former Heisman Trophy winner balances his desire for instant gratification against the need to be patient.
Ask him what area he has improved most in since last season, when he watched Jon Kitna quarterback the Bengals to an 8-8 artistic success, and Palmer tells you his patience.
Ask the coaches and you get a different answer.
"Probably, but he's still got a way to go," said coach Marvin Lewis. "The thing he can't get caught up with is trying to do too much. He's still got to watch that."
Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese says Palmer has mastered the language of calling the Bengals' offense in his second NFL training camp, but hasn't quite mastered its intricacies. Yet.
"We get certain plays where he gets to throw the ball down the field and he gets pretty excited about it and it may not be the right look that we wanted, but he's throwing it anyway," Zampese said.
"He's kind of getting locked in sometimes to a particular route instead of taking the time to read the route and getting the ball to go where we really want it to go. And those things happen as you get comfortable."
Lewis was comfortable enough last March to promote Palmer to the starting job, even though Kitna, an eight-year veteran, had a career year last season with 3,591 yards and 26 touchdown passes.
A lot of it had to do with the $49 million the Bengals committed to Palmer a year ago on a seven-year contract. But there's ample reason to believe it's also the right decision for the Bengals because of his cannon-like arm and his tireless work ethic.
Even though disgruntled running back Corey Dillon finally is gone, the Bengals still want to run the ball to protect Palmer and set up the pass. But they are cognizant of Palmer's exceptional arm and his potential to produce instant offense.
"I think there are certain things we can accentuate as far as the deep throws," Zampese said. "We weren't lacking; I would say Jon did a nice job throwing the ball last year.
"But the difference between Carson and most other guys [is], Carson has another 5 to 10 yards on his throws than a normal guy. ... The ball's in the air longer, and the timing of when it comes down is a little different to defensive backs. And hopefully we can rely on that to get behind some people."
Palmer never got into a regular-season game last year because Kitna had the Bengals pointed toward the playoffs before they lost their final two games. In hindsight, Palmer thinks that was an unseen blessing.
"I definitely wouldn't have been as successful as Jon," he said. "I just wasn't ready. I didn't know the game, I didn't know our team. I definitely would have struggled."
Now it's a different story. Palmer believes the year spent on the sideline watching Kitna handle the offense gives him a smooth transition. Now he believes he's ready.
"I had a year to really learn and really absorb the offense," Palmer said. "I had a chance to see what it's like to be an NFL quarterback, watching Jon. I had a good chance to learn what it takes and what you have to do to be a successful quarterback in this league."
While he watched Kitna up close, he went to his tape machine to study quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans, co-Most Valuable Players in the league.
Winding through the tapes at night just before bed, he'd look at how Manning and McNair managed games, what kind of tempo they established on offense and what they liked to do on certain downs.
"I wanted to see how greedy Peyton is, see if they're taking check-downs [throwing underneath the coverage] all the time or if they were taking shots down the field. Watching them go through their progressions also helped."
What he found on tape was proof that all quarterbacks -- MVPs or not -- must be patient, must look for the right pass over the tempting pass.
"They're very patient," he said of Manning and McNair. "But they do take their shots in certain situations."
Which tells him the voice in his head is right.