Jesse's homecoming

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

MONTREAL -- On a football-perfect, near-autumn day complemented by the sweet smells of a neighbourhood bakery, the newest Alouette has a strong sense of comfort.

This despite the fact he is one of three in a crowd almost 50 large who is wearing a turquoise shirt (symbolic of his backup role, not a distorted fashion statement) and is introducing himself to new teammates during what is only his second practice as a CFLer.

Still, he looks like he belongs.

"It's just very nice to be back home," says Jesse Palmer, who was born in Toronto, raised in Nepean and professionally groomed in U.S. outposts such as Gainesville, Fla., and New York -- when his moves aimed at becoming a groom weren't being detailed on a nationally televised reality show. "I really feel like I'm home again."

Yes, The Bachelor is settling down.

Palmer, who has left the NFL after five years as an understudy in order to land a starting job in Canada, has been dating a German model for eight months now.

"That," he says of the romance, "is a long time for me."

They met at a New York Rangers game. Imagine, the Canadian scoring a beauty at Madison Square Garden.

"Probably where I should have been looking the whole time," Palmer says with a laugh.

FOUR YEARS WITH GIANTS

Drafted by the Als in 2001, Palmer spent four years with the New York Giants before spending the final weeks of last season as a San Francisco 49er. He came to Montreal when his options dried up in the NFL, and now sits fourth on the Als' depth chart behind Anthony Calvillo and backups Nealon Green and Marcus Brady, two former starters.

It's no accident that Palmer is wearing No. 12.

"I took it to honour Russ Jackson as a great Canadian quarterback in the CFL," he says. "It just seems fitting. I know him personally, I'm a big fan of his."

Palmer didn't quite have that Jackson touch yesterday. As low man on the totem pole, he didn't get his first reps until the practice was about 75 minutes old. When he did get a chance with the scout team -- and against no pass rush -- his timing was off.

He completed his first two passes, short dumps over the middle.

"Yeah, but with authority," chimes the CBC's Dan Seguin, who gives Ottawa two reporters compared to Montreal's three at the practice. "I might have wobbled them."

Palmer finishes with six completions on 12 attempts.

"It's a matter of getting out there and taking it a day at a time, not being over-critical of myself," he says. "I'm my worst critic, and if a ball ever touches the ground I think it's a bad day. But I'm just working hard ... it's more mental than anything."

Coach Don Matthews says Palmer needs work, but feels he has the tools to succeed in the CFL.

"What I see is that he throws a tight spiral, he has very good velocity and he looks to have some mobility," says Matthews. "He looks like he's a contender to be a good football player in our league.

"But he needs to spend this year learning about our league, and that's the position we're going to put him in. We'd be cheating him and ourselves if we tried to make him a roster player this year."

ALS IMPRESSED

Palmer appears to be fitting in with the Als players, as some are already calling him Bachelor.

"It's too early to tell how good he can be, but he throws a good ball," said Ben Cahoon, the Als standout receiver. "I've been very impressed with him so far. He's very intellectual, an eloquent speaker. He presents himself very well."

The Als have Palmer under contract until the end of 2007, should they so choose. That means if a new Ottawa team starts up in 2008, he could sign on as a free agent. If an Ottawa franchise begins in 2007, it would have to trade for what would be a great foundation to build around.

In the meantime, Palmer will work closely with Calvillo, who has 11/2 years left on his contract and feels he still has a lot of "game" in him.

Still, Calvillo is one of the best QBs to ever play in Canada. Nice training ground, indeed.

"That's one thing that Tracy was like with me ... if I was looking for help, he was going to give it to me," Calvillo recalls of former Als great Tracy Ham. "I feel the same way. If somebody out there is looking for help and input, I'm going to give it to them. I know that really helped me."

Als GM Jim Popp asked for quarterback Brad Banks and a first-round draft pick when the Renegades tried to trade for Palmer's rights last year. Popp said yesterday he became fed up with the Renegades' inability to make a serious counter offer, but he will no doubt try to send Palmer to the nation's capital when a new team starts up.

"When I look at Jesse Palmer, he has a value. On and off the field, he has a huge value," says Popp. "You're not going to just get an NFL, five-year vet quarterback, plus with the Hollywood star power he has ... that can help you in the community or selling tickets or marketing ... but the bottom line is he's a good football player. And that's overlooked through all of this.

"To last five years on a roster in the NFL with one team, you've done something."

LEARNING SITUATION

Palmer, however, realizes his experience south of the border means little in the CFL.

"Right now I'm just in a situation I have to learn a lot," he said. "I can't demand to be one right now. I'm not in the place to be one. It's the middle of the season and there's a great starting quarterback here now. It's a great opportunity for me to come back and learn. Right now I really just have to watch and try and soak up as much as I can."

And if he winds up back in his true hometown, Jesse Palmer would love nothing more.

WATTS FAN

"I've always said that I'd love to one day go back to Ottawa and play, to have a chance to go back and play in that stadium I used to go watch the Rough Riders play when J.C. Watts was quarterback in the mid-'80s," he said. "That would be a dream come true. As of right now, I'm really just trying to focus on today.

"More than anything, it's my passion to play football. I just want to play as much as I can. I love the game too much to just give it up. I know that would be a situation I'd regret, if I just gave it up today to make more money doing something else. I want to exhaust that avenue right now.

"I'm 27 and I feel I have a lot of football left. I'm excited now. It's great to be home to play the game I grew up watching."


Videos

Photos