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Tolbert bolsters offense

Posted May 22, 2012

CHARLOTTE - When the Panthers added free agent Mike Tolbert two months ago to a backfield that already featured DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, some fans wondered what Tolbert's role possibly could be.

Tolbert doesn't want to divulge any company secrets, but it's no secret that he considers himself to be in good company in Carolina.

"I'd like to think that I'm the missing piece," Tolbert said. "The offense was ranked high (seventh) in total offense, and I'd like to think that I'm the missing piece to push us all the way to number one.

"Our potential is unlimited."

Tolbert said he knows what his job will entail but would only said it would include "a lot of fullback stuff" and "a lot of different stuff."

In his four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Tolbert proved proficient at a lot of stuff. He caught 54 passes out of the backfield last year and led the Chargers in rushing in 2010, totaling 21 touchdowns over the two seasons. Twice, he paced San Diego in special teams tackles.

"If you're a ballplayer, you're going to find a way to get on the field," Tolbert said. "I've always prided myself on being able to catch the ball well and doing whatever I need to do to stay on the field – pass catching, blocking, running, whatever.

"You never know what's going to happen. Guys get hurt every day – Stew might get hurt or I might get hurt of DeAngelo. I'm not wishing that on anybody, but it's always better to have three than two or four than three."

That's the approach the Panthers took in signing the 5-9, 243-pound Tolbert, who is enjoying a homecoming of sorts in his second NFL home. Tolbert averaged 6.0 yards per carry at Coastal Carolina, and his family still lives in his hometown of Douglasville, Ga., about four hours down the road from Charlotte.

"Being this close to home helps," Tolbert said. "I don't have to buy as many plane tickets like when I was on the West Coast. People can just drive up."

Still, it feels like starting over in some ways. Tolbert knows a few players in the locker room, among them fellow Coastal product Josh Norman, but many of his prior relationships are within the coaching staff.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was the Chargers' defensive coordinator during Tolbert's first three pro seasons. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and secondary coach Steve Wilks also coached during Tolbert's time in San Diego, with Chudzinski serving as assistant head coach in 2010 and Wilks doing the same in 2011.

"That had a big impact," Tolbert said. "It's just familiarity, coming somewhere where I knew people already. That just made it comfortable and easier to come here than elsewhere."

Tolbert was quick to praise the offense the Panthers have put together, making special note of his fellow running backs, Pro Bowl selections Steve Smith and Ryan Kalil, tight end Greg Olsen and - of course – quarterback Cam Newton.

Among Newton's many accomplishments as a rookie last season were his 14 rushing touchdowns, an NFL record for quarterbacks. Tolbert, despite starting just a total of five games over the past two seasons, totaled 19 rushing touchdowns to become known as the ultimate "vulture" in fantasy football circles.

"You can't forget about Cam. He's the ultimate weapon – run, pass - he can do it all," Tolbert said. "If he's willing to give them up, I'm willing to take them. They call me the vulture for a reason.

"Some people say I have a knack for it. When I see a white line, I just make sure I get across it with the ball."