The Panthers set off a wave of speculation about the future of their backfield when they signed Mike Tolbert as a free agent earlier this month.
With DeAngelo Williams getting a big contract last year and Tolbert nabbing a four-year deal this year, plenty of people wondered if they were going to trade Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is going into the final year of his contract and it seems unclear that he has much of a future in Carolina beyond this year with all the other commitments at the position.
But it also sounds like it is unlikely that he’ll be playing anywhere but Carolina this season. Panthers coach Ron Rivera talked about Tolbert’s role with the Panthers this season and they aren’t viewing him as a threat to Stewart’s role.
“Everybody keeps saying he’s a tailback. But he’s a fullback to us. Because again, we saw how we had used him in San Diego. We just thought this is a guy we’d love to have. … If you can put an athletic, play-making fullback there, I think it helps you.”
How it will all shake out remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet that Tolbert’s touches will go way down from what they were in San Diego. With Williams, Stewart and Cam Newton also on hand, it also seems like a safe bet that the Panthers will be one of the league’s better running teams in 2012.