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Carolina Panthers’ Tolbert sheds pounds, retains toughness

SPARTANBURG There’s no question Mike Tolbert is well-known around the league for his size.

At 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds, Tolbert is a goal-line terror for defenses and a wrecking ball at fullback for the Carolina Panthers. He has nicknames like “Toldozer,” “Fat Boy” and “Tub of Goo.”

But after an offseason of training on the West Coast, Tolbert has shed 13 pounds and said Sunday at training camp that he’s in “tremendous shape.”

“Round’s a great shape,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera joked.

Tolbert said he feels great in his new body, and he plans to keep the weight off as he looks to replicate 2013’s Pro Bowl season.

“The weight was a hindrance in the past, so now that I’ve dropped it and I’m feeling great, I don’t see a reason to put it back on,” Tolbert said. “I took it off the right way, and getting it off the right way is definitely helping me.”

Tolbert, who played with the Chargers from 2008-11, trained in San Diego with professional boxers at House of Boxing. For a fifth year he took part in a strength and conditioning program called CrossBox.

CrossBox mixes elements of boxing with running along the streets of San Diego with a punching bag on one’s shoulders and lifting truck tires. Chargers tackle D.J. Fluker has also participated in the program.

“I get in the ring and spar with heavyweights,” Tolbert said. “It’s man on man. It’s the ultimate sport of either you win or I win. It’s going to be me or you. It takes a lot of intensity. Everyone knows the mentality I have that I will never let the man across from me beat me.

“I’m a naturally intense guy. That’s me. I can’t help it.”

One of the shortest players on the team, Tolbert doesn’t believe any Panther could beat him in boxing. That includes former Golden Gloves champion Byron Bell, who boxed in high school and has one of the longest reaches on the team.

Tolbert said he would rather be hit in boxing than football, but Tolbert prefers to deliver hits on the football field rather than in the ring. Perhaps Tolbert’s biggest hit of the 2013 season came against the 49ers when he leveled safety Eric Reid, which led to Reid suffering a concussion.

Tolbert joked his boxing style is a mix between Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr. But kidding aside, Tolbert said he can “absolutely” feel a difference in his body in the first days of training camp.

“My cardio is beyond whatever I can comprehend,” Tolbert said. “Because we did so much road work and sparring and cardio, I feel like I can run for days. And you usually don’t see short, fat guys that can do that.”

He’ll need the better conditioning this preseason. Running back Jonathan Stewart is out two to four weeks with a hamstring injury, rookie Tyler Gaffney is out for the season with a knee injury and Carolina’s coaches aren’t calling designed runs in camp for Cam Newton on his surgically repaired ankle.

With Carolina’s renewed emphasis on the run game and time of possession, Tolbert had 101 carries, 361 yards and five touchdowns, and he was named to the first Pro Bowl of his career last season.

His punishing running style and knack for picking up crucial yards in third- and fourth-down situations made Tolbert a key part of the Panthers’ backfield.

Because of that, Rivera wants to make sure Tolbert doesn’t lose too much weight.

“The biggest thing that we want for him is to continue to maintain that weight and he maintains an effective play,” Rivera said. “We don’t want him to lose that nose for the goal line that he has. A lot of times he’s our fourth-down, go-to guy. He’s our crunch-time guy. That’s why it’s important for him to be in shape and be ready to go.”

Does Rivera want Tolbert to be fat?

“I want Mike to be round,” he said.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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