The quarterback position in the NFL has, over the course of the past decade and change, become the singular most important position on the football field. Teams that are perennially in the front of the pack chasing postseason success have one common denominator: a tough-as-nails quarterback. Even if a team doesn't have a guy like Manning or Brady with a "rocket laser arm" and an apparent infrared guidance system for his throws, a guy like (and it pains me to say it) Ben Roethlisberger who can't necessarily make every single throw but has the moxie and poise to will his team into the end zone is a must.
In April of 2003, the Bengals got their guy. A sharp-looking prodigy of Norm Chow out of USC, Carson Palmer arrived hand-in-hand with Marvin Lewis as the apparent saviors of the Cincinnati Bengals. I'm not going to rehash the events that have transpired since then, for that would be overkill as we inundate you with these previews of the rapidly-upcoming season.
However, suffice it to say that there are going to be an awful lot of eyes on Carson Palmer in 2010. It is also significant to note that if for some reason Carson Palmer and his retooled receiving personnel can't get it done, there is little chance (as is the case for the vast majority of NFL teams) that the second or third string quarterbacks will lead the team to victory in his absence. If Palmer doesn't have "the juice" anymore as some have been insisting for a couple of years now, Cedric Benson will need to eat an awful lot of spinach because no Carson = no passing game.
As chronicled up-page, Palmer has certainly had his highs and lows since being drafted in 2003. A year of sitting on the bench and learning from Jon Kitna, an 8-8 season, a wonderful, joyous 11-5 season that culminated in the injury that still gives me nightmares to this day, a bounce-back season for the team record books ending in disappointment with three straight losses and missing the playoffs, a mediocre 2007 by his standards, a horrid 2008 in which he only played four games and a revamped run-first offense that bore no great passing numbers in 2009 have joined together to create his story thus far. There are some things in place for 2010 that have the ability to drastically alter Palmer's impact (i.e. the first time in his career that he has had a legitimate pass-catcher at TE), which means one thing for the God of Golden Arms. No more excuses.
Drafted in 2002 by the New Orleans Saints, O'Sullivan spent three years with New Orleans before becoming well-traveled en route to Cincinnati with stops in Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit and San Francisco before landing in Cincinnati in the 2009 offseason. He didn't receive any significant snaps (okay, he rushed twice in Green Bay in 2004) until he landed in Detroit in 2007. He saw limited action there and went to San Francisco in 2008 where he earned the moniker of JTO "Just Turn It Over"'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan, all that said, is probably about as capable as most of the backup quarterbacks in the league. That is to say that in Cincinnati, as in roughly twenty-eight other cities which have NFL teams, if the starting quarterback goes down it's going to be a long season. O'Sullivan isn't going to strike fear in the hearts of many defensive coordinators or cornerbacks in the league, but he is capable of carrying the burden for a short period of time at least. Better keep Cedric Benson fresh with some relief here and there though, because if Carson Palmer is lost for any length of time it could get very, very interesting.
College: Texas-El Paso
Jordan Palmer is a bit of a quandary for me, to be perfectly honest. He has the same measurables, the same physical abilities and prowess (actually he's a bit more athletic) and the same genetics as his older brother Carson. The only thing he lacks is the pedigree. Well, that and any sort of results or ability to instill confidence in the coaching staff that he should move up to second string. I wish I could understand why he hasn't moved up the depth chart, but the easy answer is that while many have expressed that Carson has lost the juice, the case may be that Jordan just never had it in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that if Carson goes down and J.T. O'Sullivan goes down as well that the season is shot, because Jordan may step up and be the Great American Hero we all know he can be.
I'm just saying that if the elder Palmer and O'Sullivan go down then we're down to our third-string quarterback, and that typically yields undesirable results.