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Running backs work hard, play hard

Posted Sep 19, 2012

CHARLOTTE - As Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert tried to conduct a serious interview with several members of the media, running back DeAngelo Williams politely interrupted.

"Hey, Mike," Williams said. "There are some chicken wings back there.

"They're baked, so they're healthy. I'm just saying."

Even with Williams using a somewhat somber tone, the reporters around Tolbert had to laugh, and soon Williams belted out his unmistakable laugh that often reverberates through the locker room.

The Panthers' running back group is fast on the field and just as quick with a joke, whether it's Williams quipping about wings and Tolbert's "body style" or it's Jonathan Stewart breaking down his latest sandwich creation available at your local Harris Teeter.

Practice squad running back Armond Smith even got in the mix Tuesday, breaking Williams' concentration during an interviewer's question about the Panthers' resurgent running game by turning on his laptop's camera and pointing the resulting images toward Williams.

"In Week 1, we didn't get it going so well," Williams started out, trying to ignore Smith just a couple of feet away. "To bounce back in the second week and get it going, it was…What are you doing? You're killing me with that laptop."

The group may take a lighthearted approach to things in the locker room at times, but there's no questioning their heart on game day. No running back group in the NFL runs harder than the Panthers' trio.

"I can guarantee you one thing: 34 is going to give everything he's got," Williams said. "That's how I always play the game."

Last Sunday, a week after a disappointing game to start the season, the trio ran all over the New Orleans Saints. They know they need a similar effort when the New York Giants visit Thursday night.

Against the Saints, all three found the end zone. It was Tolbert's first touchdown as a Panther, and he celebrated with some entertaining dance moves that San Diego Chargers fans enjoyed many times over the Coastal Carolina product's first four years in the league.

"I have a good time with my dancing and stuff," Tolbert said. "But we know when it's time to work and when it's time to play. With us, there's a lot of play and a lot of work. We know how to balance it.

"The camaraderie we've got already after six months is amazing. It's a fun room."

Williams and Stewart, already known for their collaborative touchdown "dance," knew of Tolbert's moves well before Sunday's score.

"I've seen that dance before," Williams said. "The first time I met him, we were sitting in a meeting, and Coach (John) Settle said, 'Have you seen him on YouTube dancing?' So I pulled it up and thought, 'OK. All right. He can dance a little bit.'

"Then he asked me if I can dance, and I said, 'No. I wasn't born with that feature, but I'm working on it.' More power to him. I'm a little jealous because he can dance, but me and Stewart have our thing going. Stew can't dance either, so we put the two non-dancers together and we made a dance."

Williams has been highly complimentary of what Tolbert brings to an already strong group, calling him a hybrid. Williams struggles, however, to come up with a term to best describe the body type of the 5-9, 245-pound Tolbert, who has been compared elsewhere to a bowling ball.

"His body style? Football player. I've got to go with the politically correct answer there," Williams said. "A big guy like him and the way he moves, I told him one day that they may drug test him. They did the next day."

With that, Williams let loose another one of his signature laughs. The running backs hope to be in at least this good of a mood late into Thursday night.

"They are a group that's very talented, and they have some of the best personalities on the team," center Ryan Kalil said. "They're fun to be around, and they're fun to block for because they make you look good even at times when you're not doing so great.

"What they bring is just awesome."