Tolbert, Bell ready to take fight to foes

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back Mike Tolbert looks like a boxer the way the Pillsbury Doughboy looks like a swimsuit model.

The same for left tackle candidate Byron Bell.

But both spent a part of their summer training with boxers to help take their game to the next level. Both also believe firmly if they met in the ring he would be the winner.

Imagine the introduction.

In this corner, from Carrollton, Georgia, weighing in at 5-foot-9 and 237 pounds, the Tub of Goo, Plate of Paste, Bowling Ball, heavyweight contender Mike Tolbert.

In the other corner we have a former Golden Gloves contender, weighing in at 6-5 and 330 pounds, the pride of Greenville, Texas, Byron "Ring My" Bell.

Are you ready to rumble?

Tolbert believes he is. With his cardio capacity now off the charts, he doesn't believe there's a player in the locker room that could take him. He said Bell might be the closest contender, but pointed out it's been since high school that the fourth-year player out of New Mexico competed in Golden Gloves.

He apparently hadn't heard Bell spent time this summer in Ohio with his old boxing trainer.

Bell admits Tolbert might be quicker, but when it comes to arm reach his advantage would be too much to overcome.

"Tolbert, if he thought he was going to get in [for a punch] I would touch him on his chin and he wouldn't know what hit him,'' Bell said defiantly on Sunday before the Panthers practiced in pads for the first time in training camp.

But the plan isn't to use their boxing skills to beat on each other or any of their teammates. The plan is to use their skills to help the 2014 Panthers become the first to have consecutive winning seasons in team history.

Through their training, both have slimmed down 13 pounds, Tolbert down from the 250 that made him a goal-line force and Bell from 343 that made him a solid run blocker at right tackle.

Tolbert practiced the art of what he called "cross boxing'' -- cross training involving boxing to improve the overall shape -- at the House of Boxing in San Diego. He got good enough at it that he actually sparred with real heavyweight fighters.

"It's man on man,'' Tolbert said. "It's the ultimate sport of either you win or I win. That takes a lot of intensity. Everybody knows the mentality I have is that I will never let the man across from me beat me.''

Tolbert never has felt better. He insists the extra weight was a hindrance and that the lighter version will make him faster and just as powerful on fourth-and-1.

Coach Ron Rivera, who has shed more than 30 pounds himself, likes what he's seen so far.

"Oh, yeah, Round is in good shape,'' he said.

Bell returned to boxing to improve his footwork and hand placement that will be necessary when facing some of the league's top pass-rushers and help him beat Nate Chandler for the left tackle job. He's not so sure the extra weight was a hindrance, but he likes fitting into smaller clothes.

Neither is a player you'd want to mess with on the field. Tolbert would just as soon run over a defender than around him. If you need proof, go back and look at the way he blasted Atlanta's William Moore to set up a touchdown in last year's regular-season finale.

Ask him who he models his boxing style after and he declares it's a mix between Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather.

Cover your ears.

Bell arguably was involved in more scuffles during last year's training camp than any other player. He didn't mention who he models his boxing style after, but judging by his girth it would have to be George Foreman -- late in his career.

"I'm not going out there to fight my teammates, but I've got to come out here and be physical so I can transfer it to Sunday,'' Bell said.

Sundays are when both want to be ready to rumble, and both believe boxing will help.

"[My trainer], he incorporates a lot of football movement, a lot of hand-eye coordination, a lot of footwork, a lot of cardio,'' Tolbert said "It's a pro boxer's workout. It's definitely tough, but I mean, the strong survive and I've got to be ready.''