DENVER — Injured and twice cut by teams this season, Nathan Palmer now finds himself getting his weekly marching orders from none other than Peyton Manning.
And Palmer is headed to a Super Bowl.
It’s been the ultimate NFL kid-in-a-candy-story odyssey for the Elkhart native, who is in line for a ring if the Denver Broncos can beat the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday.
“It’s just crazy ... unbelievably crazy,” Palmer said Thursday, Jan. 23, after a Broncos workout.
Palmer, picked up by Denver in December after he was released by Miami, was on the sidelines during most of last week’s AFC Championship game win over New England. A practice squad player and not in uniform, he said he couldn’t help but act like a child as a wild post-game celebration took life.
“We jumped around like little girls ... all of us practice team guys. We were sprinting all over, waving towels in the air ... doing all of the things we’re not supposed to do during the game,” Palmer said. “It was so surreal watching Peyton Manning and Tom Brady battle, knowing the ins and outs, all the dummy calls, to see what Peyton was doing at the line ... I had a great seat on the sidelines.”
Emotions later changed for the Elkhart Central graduate as the AFC Championship trophy was presented to the franchise.
“During the ceremony, it kind of hit me,” Palmer said. “It’s been a rough year. I’ve been through a lot ... being hurt, getting cut, rehabbing ... and that didn’t always go so well. Then there was the pressure to get back, flying all over, hooking up with Miami, getting cut again.”
“But that moment made it all worth it.”
Palmer, who’s in his second NFL season, began 2013 with the Colts, but a knee injury in the last preseason game put his season on hold. After being released by Indianapolis, he continued to heal while auditioning for other NFL teams until Miami called in late October.
After the Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention, Palmer was cut again, yet within hours, he was claimed by Denver, one of the team’s that requested a workout.
When the Broncos head to New York on Sunday, Palmer will settle into a practice role by mimicking one of Seattle’s receivers — he would not elaborate which one — and he’ll work with Denver defense and sit in on offensive meetings with the coaching staff.
And Manning, of course.
“That being an ‘awe’ moment is an understatement. I think the first time in a meeting, I just stared at him for like five minutes. I was thinking, ‘This is crazy,’” Palmer said. “To see how smart he is ... he really knows everything. It’s hard to fool him.
“The one thing I noticed about him was that every new guy, the moment you walk in, Peyton goes right up to introduce himself to you. He calls you by name and he doesn’t forget it. He’ll joke with you in meetings and he might even call you out if he sees you missed a route.
“Peyton runs the whole meeting ... you’d think he was the coach.”
Along with the wide-eyed moments has come plenty of the professional dirty work in Palmer’s job. Twice in the last month, Palmer said he has been recognized as the top practice squad player for a week, and he expects to give a collection of all-out efforts over the next 10 days leading up to the Super Bowl.
Opportunities to work closely with Manning and Denver’s talented receiving crew — Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, among others — as well as taking reps against Bronco defensive back veteran Champ Bailey, regarded as one of the NFL’s all-time best, will be the most valuable learning tools he’s had in his young career.
“My job is to give them a great look,” Palmer said. “I’m usually the speed receiver so I study (the opponents’) guy that whole week, then on special teams, I’m that guy that gets down field quickly. I’m trying to go above and beyond.
“I really like the vibe here. I’ve talked to a couple of coaches to see where I am, and they tell me they know I got in late, but pick up as much as you can and that I’m definitely a guy they can use here. Being practice squad player of the week, I didn’t get that kind of recognition anywhere else. I like how it’s a tight-knit group. You can tell the difference.”
And that difference, according to Palmer, could lead to bigger and better opportunities in his career, but no matter how he looks at it, a chance to be a part — even a small part — of a Super Bowl, is priceless.
“It’s so funny because I called my brother (Jovone) earlier before I went to work and it’s like, I went from a team where I was just trying to prepare guys for the playoffs to being on a team where I’m trying to help guys win a ring,” Palmer said. “I get a ring and I feel a part of it, but I have to do a job.
“I wake up with a smile. It isn’t the ideal situation being on a practice squad, but I say to myself, If I’m going to be on a practice squad, what better place to be than Denver and going to the Super Bowl?”