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Friday, March 30, 2012

Tolbert To Do Heavy Lifting

Newly signed RB Mike Tolbert buys into what’s going on in Carolina.

Apparently, he’s willing to take less money than the Chargers offered to stay (in one of the most beautiful markets in the league), to move to fullback and play special teams, two of the grittiest, thankless jobs out there.

Ron Rivera reiterated that Tolbert was a guy they saw as a fullback, citing him as “athletic ... playmaking.” This, along with the Mike Goodson trade, suggests no Jonathan Stewart trade.

Now, suggesting fullback isn’t to say that Tolbert would spend all of his time flinging himself at a defender. It’s an important piece of the puzzle, one that was missing last year, but not the only part in Carolina. The Coryell offense has regularly given the fullback balls (note Larry Senters, FB for Arizona in the 90s, who caught 100 balls as a fullback). Tolbert himself caught 50 balls last year as a backup RB. There’s room for split-back sets that could give Tolbert the ball, and certainly short yardage he makes sense as well. Of course, were anything to happen where Carolina did need Tolbert at RB, that’s always an option. Consider him a more talented, more dynamic Nick Goings, who thrived in a throttled-down version of this offense with Dan Henning.

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is a master at formations, shifts, and motions, and that could mean that Tolbert can move around – a lot. He’s not so athletic that he poses a bigtime threat on the edge as a receiver the way a Deangelo Williams or Greg Olson could, but it still does draw attention. Defenses would still, as typical, move the CB out if Tolbert motioned outside the WR, hopefully leaving a mismatch somewhere else. Moving Tolbert around within formation, or out-and-back (in our terminology, F Orbit), can tell the adjustment (which can tip off the defense). And having a more

It’s a departure from most of the league, where the fullback has fallen out of favor. Carolina, who used Olson and Jeremy Shockey together for the majority of snaps that didn’t include at least 3 WR, often used Olson moving around, and lining up at fullback a good deal, but it was window dressing. They may still do that at times on 2 TE sets – the other TE is up for grabs at this point (Ben Hartsock is the more likely blocker, younger Gary Barnidge would likely have the job if he can block lower or show more consistency as he had in preseason 2011), so it’s less likely the team does use 2 TE at this point. The move is a departure for Chudzinski, who spent time in 2011 acquiring three new TEs, and added Randy McMichael and to Antonio Gates in 2010. Both teams used more 2 TE than almost anyone in the league in that timespan. Of course, using Olsen by himself would increase his productivity, and might let him go deeper more often, combining him with a WR route instead of pairing him more with the other TE as was the case often last year.

Now that does leave Richie Brockel on the ledge, so to speak. Another former Charger, Brockel scored on possibly the coolest play of the 2011 season, on a goal-line trick play that included a stealthy snap without linemen moving, a fake triple-option that had both Steve Smith and Deangelo Williams as possible pitch men, and ended with Brockel the unlikely hero scoring untouched. Brockel has some blocking ability, and toughness – and special teams ability. But Tolbert recreates all of that, at a higher level, and better hands (and RB skill when needed).
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