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Tolbert makes name(s) for himself

Posted Dec 1, 2013

CHARLOTTE – Tub of Goo. Sugar Bear. Plate of Paste. Short Round.

That's just a sampling of the endless array of nicknames ascribed to Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert by his teammates but not dare used by those charged with tackling the 5-9, 245-pounder.

"It can get rough," said Tolbert, who totaled 89 yards in Carolina's 27-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. "A lot of running backs shy from contact. I enjoy it."

With starting running back DeAngelo Williams inactive Sunday with a quad injury, Tolbert played an even more pivotal role than he typically does.

Quarterback Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing on the strength of a 56-yard gallop, but Tolbert was next with 48 yards on nine carries. He also added three catches for 41 yards.

On the Panthers' opening drive of the second half, Tolbert fought for 12 yards on a short catch to set up a touchdown that extended the lead to 24-6. In the fourth quarter, he did much the same on a 15-yard pass play on third down to extend a drive that consumed nearly nine minutes and ended with a field goal.

"When he gets the ball, I love it," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "He very rarely loses any yards out there, and he gets the crowd fired up. Those guys on defense for sure don't want to tackle him. He gives them a headache to say the least.

"DeAngelo was out, so other people had to pick up the load. It's a tribute to the depth of our backfield and really the depth of our offense when we can still have success with our starter out."

It wasn't always easy sledding against the Buccaneers, but the Panthers grinded out 163 rushing yards with a big helping hand from Tolbert, who now has 97 combined rushes and catches after totaling 81 all of last season.

"Really? Hmm," Tolbert said. "I feel very involved doing the different things that Coach (Mike) Shula has me doing – whether I'm lining up at tight end and motioning back, or lining up at fullback and blocking, or running the ball at running back or protecting the quarterback. Being able to do so many things gives us a different aspect that a lot of other teams don't have."

Tolbert certainly is a different animal, with a body shaped to take a beating.

"He's so low to the ground that it's hard to get leverage on him," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "His running style is very physical. He's a downhill runner, and once he gets going downhill he goes pretty fast."

Tolbert has faced an uphill battle to prove people wrong throughout his football career. The Georgia native played college football at Coastal Carolina. He wasn't drafted by an NFL team but signed with the San Diego Chargers and posted four productive seasons before joining the Panthers last year.

"Everybody underestimates me for a minute, then once I start playing it kind of changes the tune," Tolbert said. "They see a guy that was short and fat, and they'd be like, ‘We've got him. No problem.' And then they'd be like, ‘Whoa, where did he get those feet. I didn't know he was that fast.' "

Rivera loves the way Tolbert runs and also the way his mind runs, calling Tolbert one of the smartest football players he's ever been around. Tolbert is also a great locker room guy, laughing along with his teammates off the field while usually enjoying the last laugh on the field.

"He brings a lot of energy to the huddle and a lot of energy to this team. He's a team player," Newton said. "When you give a guy like that an opportunity, you know he's going to protect the football – which is great – and he's going to make the most of his opportunity.

"He's a player that you hope is on your team."