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Panthers’ Mike Tolbert, underestimated again, pounds Bucs into submission

Mike Tolbert is 5-foot-9 and 245 pounds. He’s taller than he is wide. But it’s close.

Tolbert is not a streamlined, product of the gym, show-me-your-abs athlete. He’s a little shorter and a little thicker than most of us.

And when he breaks a tackle, knocks down a linebacker over or beats a safety with quick little steps, Tolbert makes the NFL look accessible and so much fun.

A fullback and running back for the Carolina Panthers, Tolbert rushed nine times for 48 yards Sunday, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He caught three passes for 41 yards. He lined up wide, went in motion and picked up the blitz.

And the Panthers won again, beating Tampa Bay 27-6 at Bank of America Stadium.

Tolbert hammered the Buccaneers the way a boxer hammers a body. He just kept coming and coming until he wore defenders down and wore them out.

Tackling him is “like hitting a Mack truck,” says Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “He’s a heavy guy.”

“I had the misfortune of tackling him when I played for Philadelphia and he played for San Diego,” says Carolina safety Quintin Mikell. “He’s so low you can’t hit him down low. And you can’t go high because there’s not much to hit. On top of all that, he’s powerful and he likes contact. You have to hope there are people around you and do a lot of praying.”

Says Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis: “Hopefully the nation will start to realize what he’s been doing.”

“I’d break him in half,” says Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy.

No you wouldn’t. Tolbert is too big.

“Big?” asks Hardy. “I’m a monster. I weigh almost 300 pounds. I would hate it for him if he had to play me. I hope I stay on the same team.”

Says center Ryan Kalil: Tolbert “is the team clown. He’s very witty. He’s very, very witty. If you’re going to get in a joking battle with him you better have a lot of ammunition.

“He does not have the stereotypical type of athletic professional body. But he’s an unbelievable athlete. An incredible dancer. He’s a music connoisseur. He’s kind of the unofficial team DJ.

“He’s a pretty loud guy. You can usually hear him when he’s coming. I like to think that’s a little bit how he plays.”

“In the locker room he has a lot of nicknames,” says quarterback Cam Newton. “It’s Mike T for a lot of people. (Quarterback) Derek (Anderson) calls him Patty Mayonnaise. Tub of Mayonnaise. I call him Tub of Goo. Lot of people call him Plate of Paste. If y’all don’t get my gist, he’s a big mass guy. He may not look good running, but he gets the job done. The Sugar Bear, did I say that one?

“He’s a player you would hope that he’s on your team. He brings a lot of energy to the huddle, brings a lot of energy to this team.”

Says Panthers coach Ron Rivera: Tolbert is “about as smart a football player as I’ve ever been around. He understands the game offensively about as good as anybody. He is just a really good person.”

Good things happen to good people. Last season Tolbert touched the ball 81 times. This season he has touched it 97.

Some of the players in the Panthers’ locker room Sunday have less body fat than a brick.

And there’s Tolbert. I ask: When you lined up for a game growing up in Douglasville, Ga., in high school or at Coastal Carolina, did opponents ever underestimate you?

“All the time,” says Tolbert, 28. “They see a guy that’s short and fat and they’ll be like, ‘OK, we got this guy, no problem.’ Then it’s, ‘Whoa, where’d he get those feet from? I didn’t know he was that fast.’ Everybody underestimates me – for a minute.”

Tolbert puts on a black hoodie with two pit bulls on the front. He has two pit bulls at home.

How fast do you run the 40?

“The 40?” asks Tolbert. He thinks about it and says he ran a 4.52 when he left Coastal Carolina.

Then he proves he is the cerebral player Rivera praised.

Are you faster now?

“No, I’m smarter,” says Tolbert. “I don’t run it.”

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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