When the Panthers signed Mike Tolbert this offseason, it was a head scratching move for both parties. Tolbert has rushed for 1225 yards and 17 touchdowns on 303 carries in the last 2 seasons, along with another 79 catches for 649 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has the talent to be part of a running back tandem somewhere in the league. Meanwhile, the Panthers already had two talented backs in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
However, Tolbert reportedly wanted to go to Carolina, play for his hometown team, and raise his children in the Carolina area, even taking less money and touches to play there. At 8.4 million over 4 years, he was too good to pass on for the Panthers, even if they didn’t have an obvious role for his talents.
After he signed, there was a lot of speculation that the Panthers could trade either the overpaid DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, who was in a contract year. The Panthers didn’t do that; instead they extended Stewart, and it was announced that Mike Tolbert would play full back and serve as a weapon out of the backfield as a pass catcher, which made sense because of his size (5-9 243 pounds) and his pass catching ability.
Now, Head Coach Ron Rivera has said that they view him as the replacement to Jeremy Shockey, a tight end who caught 37 passes for 455 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. He remains unsigned as of this writing, heading into his age 32 season. Rivera went on to explain that they used so many two-tight end sets last season because of the lack of a “true fullback,” and that Tolbert would serve that role. It’s also possible they could use him as a “move” tight end or h-back, as well. #2 tight end Gary Barnidge will not see the field as much as Shockey did for this reason. The 2008 5th round pick has just 12 career catches and is coming off a season ending injury, but the team is high on him.