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Bills RB Mike Tolbert wants to show Panthers he hasn't 'deteriorated'

Mike Tolbert had 12 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown in Buffalo's 21-12 season-opening victory over the Jets. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mike Tolbert's exit from the Carolina Panthers in February wasn’t exactly smooth.

Based on what the 31-year-old Buffalo Bills running back said during Wednesday’s conference call in preparation for Sunday’s game at Carolina, the word "deteriorated" -- as in his skills have deteriorated -- was used.

But as Tolbert reminded, his 12 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown in Buffalo’s 21-12 season-opening victory over the New York Jets "don’t seem deteriorated at all, does it?"

Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn knows what it's like to come to the visitor's locker room at Bank of America Stadium as former Carolina running back Mike Tolbert will experience with the Bills on Sunday. He knows Tolbert will want to score badly " so he can dance on us."

David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer

Tolbert didn’t mention any names, but the decision to release him with a year left on his contract was made by Dave Gettleman, who was fired as Carolina’s general manager a week before training camp.

"Everybody is entitled to their own opinion," said Tolbert, who rushed 35 times for 114 yards and no touchdowns last season at Carolina. “I use that whole 'deteriorated' word as motivation, not destruction. I'm not going to let it tear me down. I’m going to let it build me up."

Tolbert signed a two-year, $3.3 million deal with the Bills on March 9. He was brought in by head coach Sean McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the defensive coordinator at Carolina, to help create in Buffalo the locker room culture the Panthers talk about as being vital to their success.

The Bills signed former Carolina third-string quarterback Joe Webb for the same reason after he was released by the Panthers following the final preseason game.

Webb and Tolbert are similar in that they helped create a loose atmosphere in the locker room. The current Carolina locker room is much quieter without Tolbert there to play loud music.

"I was the heartbeat," Tolbert said. "I could keep things rolling."

Tolbert had more nicknames than anybody on the Panthers because of his 5-foot-9, 243-pound physique. He affectionately was called everything from "Toldozier" to "Tub of Goo" to "Fat Boy" to "Human Bowling Ball."

But the Panthers moved on from Tolbert, entering this season without a true fullback. They went with more speed with the addition of first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey, who at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds can play running back, fullback, split end and wide receiver.

When the offense needs a big fullback or H-back, it turns to tight end Ed Dickson.

Tolbert is now more of a running back than fullback, backing up LeSean McCoy. But he still likes to dance after touchdowns, as he showed following his 1-yard scoring run against the Jets.

Watch out if Tolbert scores against Carolina.

“I know he’s going to be fired up and ready to roll," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He’s going to try to get in the end zone so he can dance on us."

Several Panthers probably want a good shot at Tolbert. Linebacker Luke Kuechly still owes the former Coastal Carolina star one after Tolbert bowled him over in the Pro Bowl following the 2013 season.

Outside linebacker Thomas Davis also might have interest in revenge from when he and Tolbert first met during Tolbert’s rookie season with the Chargers in 2008.

Tolbert promised it would be a "great" collision.

"I was at the team motel talking to him," Tolbert recalled of his initial meeting with the 34-year-old. “I was talking so much trash. I was like, ‘When I come through there I’m going to bust you in the mouth,' this and that.

"Then the first time it got called, I went up to him and I cut him and he was so mad. He was so mad, but it’s one of those things where a great friendship and brotherhood was built out of that."

Tolbert plans to remind Davis again of that moment before Sunday. He still has plenty of friends on the Panthers he’ll talk to before then. He talked to running back Jonathan Stewart a couple of days ago.

But on Sunday, Tolbert will be all business once he steps on the field.

Munnerlyn understands.

"I don’t know if you have a little animosity towards the organization or animosity towards whoever released you," said Munnerlyn, who wasn’t re-signed by Carolina after the 2013 season because of the salary-cap situation but was brought back this year. “I wasn’t never in that situation.

“But being an athlete, if a team [does] release you I know you are fired up about that and you want to show they were wrong about you."