Tony Palmer has always been large. His mother, Adrianne Gaines, said she noticed that when Palmer was just days old.
“He had big hands and big feet,” Gaines said. “He reminded me of Fred Flintstone.”
NFL teams, however, look for more than big hands and big feet and probably aren’t interested in any resemblances to cartoon characters. They are looking for agile and strong athletes. They are looking for men who can combine brute strength with quickness. And unlike Fred Flintstone’s job as a brontosaurus crane operator at Slate Rock and Gravel Company, Palmer’s next job, probably as an offensive guard in the NFL, will require more skills than just pulling ropes connected to a dinosaur’s mouth.
Before Missouri’s pro day on April 4, many observers of the NFL Draft doubted Palmer was ready.
Before that Tuesday in early April, Palmer was thought to be 6 feet 1 inch and 355 pounds. Those numbers, especially the weight, seemed to be turning NFL scouts away from the former Tiger. Even though Palmer was a three-time All-Big 12 Conference selection and four-year starter at Missouri, his name was absent from draft previews published in February by The Sporting News and Street & Smith. On ESPN.com, Palmer’s prospect grade was 30 out of 100, making him the 43rd ranked guard prospect. In the 2005 draft, only 14 guards were selected.
But on April 4, Palmer weighed in at 327 pounds and his height was measured at 6 feet 2 inches. While he didn’t have any control over his height, Palmer said his goal was to weigh under 330 pounds. Scouts, Palmer said, “strongly encouraged” him to keep control of his weight.
“They told me that anything below 330 is good,” Palmer said. “My rap has been my weight.”
Losing the necessary weight has meant that Palmer has had to alter his eating habits. While he was at Missouri, Palmer said he often would skip breakfast and eat larger lunches and dinners instead. Now Palmer says that he eats breakfast daily.
“I eat hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. I make sure that I have breakfast every morning. That’s the key, that’s what starts the metabolism,” Palmer said. “Hard-boiled eggs, Special-K Raspberry and all that good stuff.”
For lunch and dinner, Palmer has started eating more salads and has grown especially fond of one.
“Grilled chicken caesar salad has been my main course,” Palmer said. “I don’t think I am a salad guy, but that’s what I have to do. I just have to watch my intake.”
As a reward, Palmer said teams have told him he will be drafted this weekend. Although no team has made any promises, he has been told that he will be picked anywhere between the third and the sixth round. Palmer said he heard that the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins are two teams interested in drafting him.
“The scouts told me just to be patient. They said I’d definitely be drafted,” Palmer said. “I just have to keep working hard.”
Palmer’s best attribute may be his strength. On April 4, Palmer bench-pressed 225 pounds 41 times, a total that is only four away from the NFL combine record. That strength will also help Palmer’s transition to a more physical, NFL-style offense. For the past two seasons, Missouri has run a wide-open offense that emphasizes quickness instead of physicality.
“The old offense that we used to run, that’s what I was used to. Smashmouth football,” Palmer said of the offense that was tailored to the skills of former Missouri running back Zach Abron. “That was running the pigskin and holding blocks. This offense was just keeping the leverage.
“The NFL needs you to dominate the guy in front of you.”
One thing the NFL doesn’t need is rookies to try to be leaders. Before his senior season at Missouri, Palmer was voted a captain. In the upcoming season, however, he will be asked to defer to his older and more experienced teammates.
“Whatever team I go to, I’m not going to change who I am. I’ll still be an energetic kind of guy. That’s the attitude I’m going to bring. I haven’t had any problems getting along with guys,” Palmer said. “I think I’ll adapt. I’m just going up there to learn. Being a rookie, it’s all I can do.”
This weekend, Palmer will probably find out what team he will be playing for. While he said he grew up a Jets fan, he “isn’t picky” and will be happy to play any position for the team that drafts him.
“Whatever team I’m going to play for, I believe that I’ll definitely excel and become a starter in that program,” Palmer said.
This weekend, Palmer will watch the NFL draft with his family in Midwest City, Okla. If he is picked, that moment will be the culmination of a life-long dream. When Palmer was in grade school, Gaines said that she asked her son what he wanted to be when he grew up. Palmer’s answer: an NFL football player.
“It’s hard to describe what that’s going to be like when I see it,” Gaines said. “It’s right there for him. We’re just so happy for him.
“It will be a happy time for all of us in his family.”
However, there is also the possibility that no team will draft Palmer. In the days leading up to the draft, teams are known to give out misinformation to throw off other teams’ plans. And if it turns out that the Dolphins, Packers and the other 30 teams aren’t interested in Palmer, he is ready for life after football.
“If I’m working in the real world, I’ll give it everything I’ve got,” Palmer said.