By Ted Fleming
Mike Tolbert, FB #35
Hometown: Douglasville, GA
College: Coastal Carolina
Experience: 5 years
He doesn’t play a sexy position and usually has the dirtiest uniform, not to mention the most bumps and bruises of anyone in the backfield. You have to be built like a fireplug, be able to pick up blitzes faster than the quarterback and try to stop a charging lineman that, in most instances, outweighs you by 100 pounds or more. You don’t get paid like the glamour boys at running back, but occasionally the coach will call your number to actually know what the old pigskin feels like.
What you have just read is the job description of one Mike Tolbert, a fullback for the Carolina Panthers. From a fans’ standpoint, he may be one of the most under-appreciated players on the roster. Tolbert has touched the ball just 54 times, 30 rushing and 24 receiving, which are not exactly the kind of numbers that will burn his name in the minds of those who watch on TV or from the stands–that’s unless you dig deeper into what he means to the team.
After a solid career at Coastal Carolina where he rushed for 1,670 yards averaging 6.0 per carry and 21 touchdowns, Tolbert was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2008, where current Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera was as the defensive coordinator. He made the team and in four years with San Diego rushed for 1,410 yards. With good hands he caught 109 passes for 1,012 more, and Tolbert knows where the end zone is, hitting it 26 times.
When he became a free agent, Rivera remembered him as being athletic for his size, a hard worker who had one of those personalities you don’t forget. The Panthers called and he signed a four-year deal to play just 3½ hours from where he played in college. He is just one of four players from Coastal Carolina University to play in the NFL joining Jerome Simpson (Bengals), Quinton Teal (Panthers and Chargers) and Tyler Thigpen (Chiefs and Dolphins).
Tolbert could have stayed with the Chargers for more money, but the close proximity to his home in Douglasville, GA factored into his decision as well as his familiarity with Rivera. He also enjoyed playing for Rob Chudzinski, who is now the Panthers offensive coordinator. At $700,000 for 2012, he is clearly a bargain.
It was supposed to be a dream backfield of Tolbert, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but things have not worked out the way many expected, with Williams and Stewart having career worsts in yards per carry and Tolbert having his lowest output since his rookie season when he had just 37 on the ground. However, to watch him play, the 5-foot-9, 245 pounder is enjoying every minute of his time with the Panthers doing whatever is asked of him.
And when the Panthers finally turn things around, maybe the fans will get to know Tolbert a little better.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.