SPARTANBURG Mike Tolberts versatility extends to his offseason workouts.
Burned out on the usual routine of running and weightlifting, the Panthers new fullback decided to try his hand and feet at boxing and kick-boxing two years ago.
When Tolbert posted career highs with 735 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns the following season for San Diego, a boxing convert was born.
To me its the best workout Ive ever done. I was just looking for something different. The same old weightlifting and running and conditioning didnt really do it for me, Tolbert said. I was looking for something to get my body in better shape, push my body to the next level. I tried it out for like two weeks, and I loved it.
Tolbert barely picked up a weight during the lockout last year. Yet, he reported to the Chargers training camp in fighting shape.
I rarely did any weightlifting last year during the lockout. All I did was the boxing training, Tolbert said. And I came out guns blazing ready to go last year.
Tolbert played in 15 games for San Diego last season. Though tailback Ryan Mathews got the bulk of the carries, Tolbert caught a career-high 54 passes, fourth-most among running backs.
He also ran for eight touchdowns, blocked for Mathews and Philip Rivers and tied for the team lead with 12 special teams tackles.
Tolbert, who grew up in Georgia and played at Coastal Carolina, talked with the Chargers about returning. But he took $1 million less to sign a four-year deal with the Panthers, according to his agent.
Tolbert was excited about playing closer to home and reuniting with Panthers coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, both of whom were on Norv Turners staff in San Diego. It seemed like a strange fit to some because the Panthers had a pair of top-tier running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
But the Panthers liked Tolberts jack-of-all-trades qualities. Plus, hes insurance in the event they cant re-sign Stewart, who will become a free agent after the season.
I honestly think I can be the missing piece that can help the team excel this year. Chud expressed to me his willingness to give me the ball at times and let me do what I do, Tolbert said. And then obviously my versatility going out playing special teams, running back, fullback. Whatever they need, Im ready.
Rivera said Tolbert gives the Panthers an extra dimension, which he demonstrated Saturday during the teams first practice. Tolbert caught a short pass out of the backfield, turned upfield and scooted toward the sideline.
That was only part of his night.
You saw some of the good things that he did as far as going out and catching the ball, Rivera said. You saw some of the things that he can do as far as run blocking and pass protecting.
Tolbert compared joining a new team to going to college and making new friends. The fact the Panthers had two established backs made Tolbert a little hesitant initially.
I wasnt sure how Id be received in the running back room, but theyve welcomed me with open arms, Tolbert said of Williams and Stewart. Both of them gave me a phone call the day I signed here, just wishing me the best of luck. We tell each other all the time were going to have the best running backs in the league, the best running game in the league. Then youve got Cam (Newton).
At 5-9 and 243 pounds, Tolbert is built like Mike Tyson in his prime compact, thick and muscular. He talked Panthers defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo, who was also his teammate in San Diego, into joining him at the boxing gym during the offseason.
Nwagbuo is 6-4 and 310 pounds, which makes their sparring sessions interesting.
Hes a lot bigger than me, so I do a lot of moving, Tolbert said. Its fun. That actually takes it up a level.
Tolbert is not ready to take his boxing to another level, but said he might consider it after he retires from football. He takes the same mentality in both sports: Stay out of his way.
Whenever youre 5-9, 245 pounds and everybodys telling you, You cant, you cant, you cant, youve got to be ready to hit somebody in the mouth every time just to prove to them you can.