FB Tolbert’s versatility paying off for Panthers
Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert is used to defenders
underestimating him when he has the ball in his hands.
He’s hoping they continue to overlook him.
The squatty 5-foot-9, 245-pound Tolbert doesn’t look like he’d
be tough to tackle or is particularly fast.
Tolbert’s low center of gravity and surprising speed has made
him a valuable and versatile commodity for the Panthers (9-3), who
beat Tampa Bay 27-6 on Sunday for their eighth straight
”They see a guy that is short and fat and they think, `Oh yeah,
we got him no problem.”’ Tolbert said with a laugh. ”Then they
are like `Whoa, where did he get those feet from? I didn’t know he
was that fast.”’
Tolbert’s physique has been the source of some good-natured
ribbing from teammates, who like to pick on him just as much as he
likes teasing them.
”In the locker room he has a lot of nicknames,” quarterback
Cam Newton said.
Newton said he calls Tolbert ”tub of goo” and said backup
quarterback Derek Anderson pegged him as ”Patty Mayonnaise. Tub of
The QB said others call him ”Sugar Bear.”
”If y’all don’t get my gist, he’s a big mass guy,” Newton
said. ”He may not look good running, but he gets the job done. …
He’s a player you would hope that he’s on your team. He brings a
lot of energy to the huddle, brings a lot of energy to this
And football smarts, too.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who played nine seasons in the NFL
and has coached 17, said Tolbert is ”about as smart of a football
player as I’ve been around.”
That’s one of the reasons why Rivera pushed former general
manager Marty Hurney to sign Tolbert as a free agent in 2012.
Rivera had worked with Tolbert in San Diego.
”He understands the offensive concepts, what to look for in
terms of blocking and protections,” Rivera said. ”He understands
running the ball and using blocks and setting up blocks. He
understands how to run a route, how to beat man coverage and beat
zone coverage. … He has a natural feel for the game and is able
to pick things up really well.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Tolbert’s football IQ and
versatility mesh perfect with Carolina’s offense.
He said Tolbert’s ability to play halfback, fullback and tight
end – as well as special teams – make him tough to keep off the
”He has built in leverage, which I think is important in this
sport, and really good balance, too,” Shula said. ”… He plays
with an attitude of toughness and whatever it takes. We feel lucky
to have him.”
Tolbert was used primarily in short-yardage and goal-line
situations last year in Carolina and most of his four seasons in
San Diego. His 30 touchdowns rushing since 2010 are tied for
sixth-most in the NFL.
But on Sunday with DeAngelo Williams out with an injury and
Jonathan Stewart struggling to pick up yards, the Panthers turned
to Tolbert more often between the 20s and in longer
Tolbert didn’t disappoint, racking up 89 yards from
Rivera, a former linebacker, smiled when asked how he’d tackle
”I don’t know,” Rivera said. ”I know that he’d hit me in the
chest, that’s for sure.”
Tolbert, 28, is far from fancy.
After Sunday’s win, he pulled on a dark hooded sweatshirt with
two pit bulls plastered on the front. He said he owns two pit
bulls. In the locker room he’s the resident comedian and teammates
say you can often hear his voice from across the room.
But on the field, he’s all about producing.
Tolbert has quietly run for 301 yards and four touchdowns and
caught 19 passes for 145 yards and two TDs.
That may surprise some. But it certainly doesn’t surprise
Tolbert, who has turned a college career at tiny Coastal Carolina
into a successful six-year NFL career.
”Everybody underestimates me – for a minute,” Tolbert
NOTES: Rivera said he expects Williams, defensive Charles
Johnson, linebacker Chase Blackburn and tight end Ben Hartsock to
return to practice Wednesday.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org