Tolbert goes coast to coast to find home with Panthers

It has been a busy offseason for the Carolina Panthers, and among their acquisitions, there were none much bigger than the addition of running back Mike Tolbert.

In March, the former San Diego Charger moved over 2,000 miles from the West coast back to the East coast, and back to familiar territory.

Just down the road from Charlotte, the home of the Carolina Panthers, stands Conway, home of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, where Tolbert was a standout in the backfield.

Tolbert signed with Carolina as an unrestricted free agent at the fullback position through 2015.

With spring practices now under way with the Panthers, Tolbert has high anticipation about the new team and the new system. Though he says everything takes hard work and effort, he can already see them getting better prepared.

“It is still a work in progress with spring practices. Coach Rob (Rob Chudzinski – offensive coordinator) and head coach Ron Rivera putting it all together and getting us prepared,” said Tolbert. “It is going to be fun. Plus, we are getting a few guys back from injury.”

Adding Tolbert at the fullback position gives Carolina further depth with both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart at the running back spot.

“Obviously, their track record speaks for itself with the running game,” Tolbert said. “We will be able to add more running schemes, blocking, and catching out of the backfield. I can do different things to help the team.

“I am excited about seeing the possibilities that we have this fall. There is no reason why we can’t have the top running game in the NFL.”

Tolbert finished the 2011 season in the backfield with 121 rushes for 490 yards and eight touchdowns. He added 54 receptions for 433 yards and two scores. Williams and Stewart combined for Carolina to rush for 1,597 yards on 297 attempts and 11 touchdowns in 2011. They added 63 receptions for 548 yards and four touchdowns.

Having played with All-Pro quarterback Phillip Rivers in San Diego and now all-pro second-year quarterback Cam Newton, Tolbert said that he looks forward to playing alongside the former Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn.

“Playing alongside Cam is going to be a fun aspect, and it will be exciting to see some of the things he can do,” Tolbert said about the new offense. “Being alongside wide receiver Steve Smith and (Greg) Olsen at tight end, I should be good to get out on the field and mix it up with them.”

Newton finished 2011 with the Panthers with 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns on 517 attempts (both rookie records). Newton also rushed for 706 yards, garnering 126 attempts on the ground.

After playing for four years with the Chargers, changing coast lines is just one of the many changes that Tolbert is facing, however he feels that the change will be a positive one and that it continues to be a part of the game.

His former league (AFC West) has seen numerous changes during the offseason, including the introduction of new Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, as former quarterback Tim Tebow moved to the New York Jets. The Kansas City Chiefs are now under the direction of head coach Romeo Crenel, and the Oakland Raiders are now coached by Dennis Allen.

“Change is always part of the game. There are new coaches and new hires each season. Whether it is me or Peyton or any other player, there is never the same reason for four years,” Tolbert added about the moves.

During his time with the Chargers, Tolbert racked up 1,410 yards on 341 attempts for a 4.1 average and 20 touchdowns. He added 109 receptions for 1,012 yards and six touchdowns.

Though Carolina does not play San Diego this fall, he will face a familiar foe with the Denver Broncos, as Manning leads Denver into play the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 11.

The Carrollton, GA native, Tolbert said that it is good to be closer to his family and near his hometown, but that the move is a big change for his wife, who is a West Coast native.

“It (the move) is two-fold somewhat because it is nice being closer to home, and being able to bring my child and my wife with me. She is from California, so she is away from her parents. It is a new journey and a new adventure.”

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