No CBA deal keeping players on sidelines

Published 2:11 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Associated Press

GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Jordan Palmer walks to midfield and plays catch for a few minutes while the Cincinnati Bengals warm up for their latest practice. As soon as the horn sounds, it all changes. Palmer becomes an unwilling spectator.

The quarterback is competing for a job, but can’t even take a snap because of the NFL’s labor deal.

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Free agents can sign with teams but aren’t allowed to practice with them until Thursday, when the new agreement is completed. Until then, they’re in a Twilight Zone of their own — technically on the team but not fully part of it.

“It’s very frustrating,” Palmer said, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. “The only other time I’ve felt this is when you’re injured. It’s actually worse than when you’re injured because you’re just watching.

“It’s very difficult and I’m very, very anxious to get out there.”

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More than a dozen veteran Bengals players were standing around during practices this week, biding time until they can put on a jersey and pads. Some of them were newcomers — cornerback Nate Clements could watch Tuesday night’s practice after signing his deal as a free agent from San Francisco.

The Bengals signed Clements after Johnathan Joseph — who formed one of the NFL’s steadiest cornerback tandems with Leon Hall — left as a free agent. Clements has a lot of catching up to do with the first preseason game only a week away.

“I was actually watching a little bit of film before I came in here,” he said. “Last year on the outside looking in, you could see they had a real, real good tandem in Joseph and Hall. With Joseph moving on, I felt I could come in and play a major role in the defense.”

Not on Tuesday. He was relegated to watching.

The ban on practice applies not only to free agents signed from other teams, but on teams’ own free agents as well. Palmer was one of the Bengals’ four restricted free agents who signed contracts when they showed up, but aren’t allowed to practice.

Palmer is competing with Bruce Gradkowski — a free agent who’s also part of the stand-around group — for a job. Palmer ran the offense during informal team workouts over the summer, helping players learn coordinator Jay Gruden’s new system.

While the rest of the offense shows what it learned from Palmer, the quarterback is confined to giving tips.

“It’s a good opportunity to teach some of these younger guys,” Palmer said. “It’s new to everybody. So you kind of try to see it from a different angle, try to find the positives.”

Gradkowski has been frustrated as well. When the Bengals’ two-hour practice ended Tuesday night, he and several other players who weren’t eligible to work out held an impromptu practice of their own for half an hour.

“It’s definitely tough — the lockout was going on, and then you get back and you can’t practice,” Gradkowski said. “We’ve been throwing on another field, another place with the other guys who can’t practice yet, calling plays and trying to get ready.”

Another strange sight: Only two quarterbacks available to run drills in their bright orange jerseys. Rookie Andy Dalton and second-year reserve Dan LeFevour had to take all the snaps in the first four practices. Normally, teams have more quarterbacks to lessen the load on their throwing arms.

The league’s unprecedented training camp — players coming and going, newcomers trying to learn everything in a short period, veterans standing around — has been a challenge for coaching staffs that have to change their plans daily to keep up.

“Obviously we have new coaches on offense and a new offensive attack, and all of the other changes that have happened in the big picture,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “So our evenings and late nights have been filled with meetings and going through the practice plans and the scripting to make sure that it is everything we want.”

Things will settle down a bit in a couple of days. The Bengals held a practice Tuesday night, then had off on Wednesday. The whole roster can participate in Thursday’s practice.

The consolation is that every team is going through the same thing, though players like Palmer take little comfort from it.

“I’m trying to fast-forward to Thursday, personally,” Palmer said.

Notes: The Bengals signed G Max Jean-Gillis from Philadelphia to a one-year deal. … A fan wore a Carson Palmer jersey with the name taped over on the back and “QUITTER” written in its place. … The Bengals waived LB Keith Darbut and long snapper Neal Dahlman, both college free agents.