The Carolina Panthers appear to be a team headed in the right direction after watching rookie quarterback Cam newton shatter records under center last season. While they still have some holes to fill in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft, the Panthers added four more wins in 2011 than they had the previous season, and the team still has a decent amount of talent at some of the skill positions.
More specifically, the team is loaded in the backfield. But did the Panthers make matters even more confusing when they signed Mike Tolbert to add to an already crowded – and confusing – backfield?
According to head coach Ron Rivera, the answer is a resounding no.
Tolbert will join Jonathan Stewart, who has just one final season remaining on his rookie contract, and Deangelo Williams, who the team rewarded with a big contract extension prior to last season, which did surprise many people. Now, with Tolbert in the fold, how exactly will the Panthers split carries. Rivera says that Tolbert will not be a factor, not at least in ways that many are fearing.
“Everybody keeps saying he’s [Tolbert's] a tailback. But he’s a fullback to us,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said at last week’s NFL Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. ”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 San Diego Chargers’ staff from 2007 – 2010, and Tolbert was with the Chargers since the 2008 season.
If Tolbert is going to be used primarily as the Panthers’ fullback, then they may very well utilize both Stewart and Williams as their running backs once again in 2012, meaning that the two will split carries. Stewart carried the ball 142 times for 761 yards and scored 4 touchdowns, while Williams carried 155 times for 836 yards and 7 touchdowns. Granted, Newton was arguably more effective than any back on the ground, rushing the ball 126 times for 706 yards while scoring a record 14 rushing touchdowns for a quarterback.
Carolina had a very impressive offense last season, and although they went 6-10, the team was competitive in many of their losses. Rivera feels as if a true fullback in Tolbert could be the missing piece to the puzzle in 2012. Of course, equipping Newton with another big playmaker on offense beside Steve Smith would not hurt either.