San Diego Chargers fullback-slash-running back Mike Tolbert is quickly becoming one of the more popular players among Bolt fans. From his “Stanky Leg” end zone celebrations to his bowling ball-meets-pins, north-south running style, Tolbert has many characteristics that have catapulted him into fan-favorite status.
“I’ve knocked a few helmets off in my day.” – Mike Tolbert
Who doesn’t like a guy who likes to knock off players’ helmets with crushing hits? Mike Tolbert is a likeable guy. That likability applies on the field as well as off. Coming out of high school, Mike Tolbert was recruited by several large schools but ultimately decided on tiny Coastal Carolina University because it “felt like home.” When he got to campus the coaches asked the former high school linebacker what position he wanted to play. He responded, “Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it for you.” The coaches wanted him to play fullback, so that’s what he did. Then there’s his former college professor who says he’s the hardest working student, in or out of the athletic arena, she’s ever had. That same hard-work, up-for-anything attitude that aided his success during his college years is what has propelled him from playing in front of 10,000 fans to 80,000.
WHAT TOLBERT BRINGS TO THE CHARGERS ON THE FIELD
Tolbert made the Chargers’ 53-man roster in 2008 as an undrafted free agent because of his hard-nosed blocking and relentless effort on Special Teams. He still maintains that effort as a blocker and on special teams and is now beginning to see more touches on offense.
As a fullback, Tolbert's a bulldozer, which is what his position calls for. But he also brings added dimensions to the team that Norv Turner loves; flexibility, adaptability, versatility. Being just 5’9”, The Tugboat uses his leverage and stout strength to take on would be tacklers. He can also catch passes out of the backfield, and he looks fluid doing it. It’s quite a different experience from the Lorenzo Neal pass-catching adventures San Diego Chargers fans had grown accustomed to. He’s deceptively quick and nimble with his foot work, but doesn’t rely on it too much while he’s treating tacklers like bowling pins. He’s decisive with the ball in his hands and he holds on to it. In college, he had 303 touches and ZERO fumbles. Norv Turner loves a sure-handed ball carrier.
Having this type of player featured in the backfield adds yet another dimension to an already potent offense. Normally if a fullback is in the backfield, the offensive weapons are a running back, tight end, and 2 wide receivers. There’s a limited set of plays you’re likely to run, and the defense knows that. With Tolbert lined up as a fullback, the defense must now account for another player who can do additional things besides the expected blocking for the running back. With Norv’s offensive mind, and now his confidence in Tolbert, the ceiling for the balance and quality of the 2010 Chargers offense is off the charts.
We haven’t even mentioned Tolbert’s special teams play yet. Always eager to channel his high school days and hit someone, Tolbert consistently makes plays in all areas of special teams. In the 2009 season, he led the team with 22 special teams tackles and against Kansas City in Week 1 this season, he tackled Dexter McCluster for no gain on a Mike Scifres punt.
After his seizing his opportunity filling in for an injured Ryan Mathews against Jacksonville Sunday afternoon, I expect to see a lot more Mike Tolbert. That fire hydrant, bulldozer, wrecking ball, freight train, tugboat of a guy figures to factor in on many more third down and goal-line sets. And the goal line sets only mean one thing: more “Stanky Leg” dances.
Watching Tolbert play has to remind Chargers fans of another 240 pound running back with ties to the Carolinas, Mr. Natrone Means. Means’ rumbling running style during his Pro Bowl season in 1994 and subsequent run to the Super Bowl is likely one of the fondest football memories for Chargers fans. Seeing Tolbert knock over tacklers and barrel into the end zone makes me long for a modern day replay of this: the Chargers’ first Super Bowl touchdown.
The emergence of Mike Tolbert, right now, feels like the type of unexpected ingredient that can swing the outcome of a few games and maybe the outcome of an entire season. I’m excited to see the impact “Yogi”, as he calls himself, will make as he’s given more opportunities throughout the year. It would be great to see all his hard work and willing attitude pay off.
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