Call Tolbert what you want, he's effective

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nobody in the Carolina Panthers locker room has more nicknames than running back Mike Tolbert.

Bowling Ball. Tub of Mayonnaise. Tub of Goo. Plate of Paste. Sugar Bear.

You name it, Tolbert has been called it. He has been for most of his football career because he's short and squatty. I won't say fat, but he's been called that, too.

But when Tolbert's number is called, he usually answers in a big way, whether he's lined up at running back, fullback or tight end.

Sunday's 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay was a prime example. With leading rusher DeAngelo Williams out with a quad contusion, Tolbert rushed nine times for 48 yards, including a 17-yarder in which he and his blockers looked like a freight train around the right side.

He also caught three passes for 41 yards.

So to underestimate Tolbert because of his 5-foot-9, 245-pound frame or cute nicknames is a mistake.

"They underestimate me all the time,'' Tolbert said. "They see a guy that is short and fat and they think, 'Oh, yeah, we got him, no problem.' Then they are like, 'Whoa! Where did he get those feet from? I didn't know he was that fast.'

"Everybody always underestimates me for a minute, but once I start playing they change their opinion.''

Coach Ron Rivera got to know Tolbert when both were in San Diego; Rivera was the defensive coordinator. When he had the chance to bring Tolbert to Carolina last year, he jumped at the opportunity.

Despite having Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Rivera knew Tolbert offered things few others could in terms of toughness and leadership.

On Sunday, Tolbert once again showed he's a handful for defenses.

"He is a downhill runner, and believe me once he gets going down, he goes pretty fast,'' Rivera said with a laugh. "He's about as smart a football player as I've been around. He understands the game offensively about as good as anybody.

"He's great to have on your team. He is great in the locker room. He is great in the huddle from what I understand.''

And Rivera, a former linebacker, is glad he never had to tackle Tolbert.

"I'll tell you right now, I know for sure that he would hit me in the chest,'' he said. "He is so low to the ground, it's hard to get leverage on him.''

Tolbert could be a big weapon next week against a New Orleans defense that entered this weekend ranked 15th against the run. He'll definitely be one of the players that keeps the Panthers (9-3), who have won a franchise-record eight straight games, focused on the task.

"Being what they call an undersized player, you've got to be a little smarter, know different positions and do different things ... be versatile,'' Tolbert said.

Rivera was smart to bring Tolbert -- or whatever you call him -- to Carolina.