Sitting precisely five weeks away from Carolina’s regular season opener at Tampa, what better way to count down the days than a little “jersey number association” bit, right?
Well, ok, perhaps this has been done a few (thousand) times before. In any event, today’s number: 35.
You could look through the Jackie Miles portal of jersey number geek-age to seek out a great #35 from Carolina’s past. And, I’m sure I will be letting the official Emmanel McDaniel Fan Club down with our choice for today–a newly minted Panther who has a little Carolina in his blood.
Mike Tolbert, a bruising 5’9″, 250 lb bowling ball of a running back, signed a four-year contract with the Panthers back on March 19. Beyond the considerable production he brings from his four year stint in San Diego, Tolbert is back home.
A west-Georgia native, Tolbert is a Coastal Carolina product where he piled up over 300 carries without a single fumble.
The NFL Draft was unkind to Tolbert following graduation. San Diego picked him up as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and Tolbert was immediately asked to contribute. Starting 7 games at fullback, his carries were limited, but he helped pave the way for another 1000+ yard season for the recently retired Ladanian Tomlinson.
Tolbert made a dent over the last two seasons, as Chargers head coach Norv Turner took note of his versatility and made Tolbert a staple of both elements of one of the AFC’s more potent offensive attacks.
Since 2010, Tolbert has scored 20 touchdowns, a medley of bruising goalline runs and well-executed receptions. In 2011, Tolbert was San Diego’s 3rd leading receiver with 54 grabs for 443 yards.
Expect more of the same from #35 in 2011. Affectionately known around the league as “Big Mike”, the Panthers are equipped to give Tolbert a big piece of the offensive pie. This contrasts with the notion that Carolina’s already stellar backfield will have no room for Tolbert.
Though the incumbents Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have stayed relatively healthy of late, Tolbert will likely flex out to different positions, notably, the “H-Back” role that is currently vacant with the departure of Jeremy Shockey.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has emphasized an almost brutal (and legal) form of physicality and aggression since his hire. The short clip below, courtesy of the NFL Network, is a microcosm of Tolbert’s ability to – much like Stewart – make a defender’s day somewhat unpleasant.
The obvious, sometimes overstated connection is with former Chargers offensive assistant and current Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, whom Tolbert gained experience and guidance from in San Diego.
This, in harmony with the current design of Carolina’s offense, makes Tolbert a low-risk, high reward acquisition.
For that, we salute #35 — 35 short days away from another NFL season.