Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert has long welcomed competition.
He went undrafted out of a relatively small football school, Coastal Carolina, and was deemed by many to be too chunky to be an NFL ball carrier.
Now he’s a two-time All Pro entering his ninth season in the league. He’s not concerned about new blood in Carolina’s running back room.
“I’m a guy that was bred on competition,” Tolbert said Monday. “Any guy that comes into my running back room, I look at as competition. I look at Jonathan Stewart as competition, but we’re best friends and like brothers. At the end of the day, we’ve all got to make our own paycheck.”
Tolbert spoke Monday morning from his inaugural celebrity golf tournament, which attracted about a dozen current Panthers and more than 150 golfers at Ballantyne Country Club. The event raised money for Tolbert’s Family SPADE (single parenting and developing education) Foundation.
Among the players there were former Panthers receiver Steve Smith and current Carolina linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. Kuechly, who had offseason shoulder surgery, played only as a putter in the captain’s choice format as he continues to rehab.
Competition at OTAs
In his fifth season with the Panthers, Tolbert will see a new face at fullback when the Panthers begin organized team activities Tuesday.
Former Marshall running back Devon Johnson signed as an undrafted free agent, just as Tolbert did with the Chargers in 2008. The Panthers gave Johnson a $20,000 signing bonus, which is among the most given to any rookie free agent in the league this year.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has referred to Johnson as being Tolbert-like in his bruising style of running, and Carolina’s potential look to the future raises questions about Tolbert’s long-term status here.
But this isn’t a new spot for Tolbert, who re-signed with the Panthers on a two-year deal worth $3.3 million this offseason. When he came into the league, he competed against a third-round fullback, Jacob Hester, in San Diego. Eventually Tolbert won the starting job.
“I think there are not many guys that can do what I do that aren’t a tight end,” said Tolbert, who at 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds can catch and run out of the backfield. “If you’re a tight end and you’re 6-foot-5, 260 (pounds), you can block and catch the ball. But can you run routes? Can you block out of the backfield? Can you play special teams? That’s something I do. I do everything.”
Josh Norman’s departure
While the Panthers plan to utilize Tolbert’s versatility in 2016, they will be without Tolbert’s longtime friend Josh Norman. Norman, who was scheduled to appear at the golf tournament, saw the Panthers rescind his franchise tender last month.
Norman later signed a five-year deal in Washington worth $75 million in a move Tolbert called beneficial for both Norman and Carolina.
“Having personal conversations with Josh, I’m going to keep that personal, because that’s a good friend of mine,” Tolbert said, “but as far as the team, I would say they just weren’t willing to pay that kind of money. They want guys that want to be here, and I don’t necessarily know that Josh showed that to them at the time.”
Tolbert showed his commitment to the team by taking less money in free agency to return to Carolina. On Monday, he was showing his commitment to the community.
Dressed in vibrant golf shorts and a pink Panthers hat, Tolbert raised money for his foundation, which aims to help single-parent households.
“Being a product of a single-parent home, my mom drilled me daily about grades,” Tolbert said. “If I didn’t maintain a B average I couldn’t play sports. I’m just trying to do my part to give back.
“I love to play golf, and it’s my hobby in the offseason. I figured why not put two of my passions together, which is helping others and golf.”