When the Carolina Panthers signed Mike Tolbert, it seemed they were adding to an already crowded backfield of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers, however, don't necessarily view Tolbert in the same light as their two top backs.
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"Everybody keeps saying he's a tailback. But he's a fullback to us," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Tolbert at last week's NFL Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. according to the Charlotte Observer. "Because again, we saw how we had used him in San Diego. We just thought this is a guy we'd love to have. ... If you can put an athletic, play-making fullback there, I think it helps you."
Rivera was part of the Chargers' coaching staff from 2007 to 2010; Tolbert had been with San Diego since 2008.
The Panthers' intention to feature Tolbert as a fullback makes it seem they will be unlikely to move Stewart, who has one year left on his rookie contract. When the Panthers first signed Tolbert, there was speculation that Stewart could become expendable, but general manager Marty Hurney recently reiterated to the Observer that the team isn't shopping Stewart.
The Panthers had one of the more potent offenses in the league last season, but Rivera said they lacked a true fullback.
"If you look at what happened last year with our offense, we didn't have a pure, true fullback in terms of a guy that has the ability to not just block, but go out into the routes, run the flat route and catch the ball, run the pivot route and catch the ball, pass protect on a consistent basis," Rivera said.